tek's rating: ¾

The Hollow Crown, on BBC Two (UK) / PBS (USA)
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Caution: spoilers!

This originally aired in the UK in 2012, and in the US in 2013 (on Great Performances). It consists of four episodes, each of which is one of Shakespeare's plays, that tell a continuing historical saga. It's always bothered me how few of Shakespeare's plays I actually know much of anything about, and these are four about which I knew practically nothing. So it's nice to have finally seen them. I do feel kind of bad about not rating the series higher, because it's really quite good. It unquestionably deserves a higher rating, in terms of quality. The only problem is that it's impossible for me to understand everything that people are talking about, considering the Elizabethan dialect, and the poetic nature of Shakespeare's dialog. Plus I couldn't keep track of who all the different characters were. But I followed enough of the story to remain interested. And of course I appreciated all the actors' skill....

There was a second, three-part limited series in 2016, but I didn't see that.

Richard II
BBC; PBS; Wikipedia

It begins (in 1398) with King Richard II mediating a dispute between his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, and Thomas Mowbray, whom Bolingbroke claims is planning treason against Richard. (Or maybe they were both calling each other traitors, it wasn't entirely clear to me.) Richard would like the two men to just make peace with each other, but they refuse. So the king declares they'll have a duel to the death, to settle the dispute. On the appointed day, Bolingbroke and Mowbray are ready to kill each other, but at the last second, Richard stops them. (Why he did this, I haven't the faintest idea.) Instead, he decides to banish Mowbray from England forever, and banish Bolingbroke for ten years. However, because it's clear that the banishment would upset Bolingbroke's father, John of Guant (played by Patrick Stewart), Richard reduces Bolingbroke's exile to six years. (Though John says he'll still have died of old age and heartbreak before his son returns.)

As I said before, there's a great deal of dialogue that I simply couldn't follow, so I don't always know exactly what's going on. But I guess Richard is supposed to be a good guy, well-loved by his cousin Bolingbroke, and others, but has started acting very poorly, because of advice from flatterers. This includes having divorced his wife, who still deeply loved Richard. Also, the king decides to levy unfair taxes to pay for a war in Ireland. When he hears that his uncle, John of Gaunt, is near death, he goes to see him. Shortly before Richard arrives, John is talking to some allies about how bad things have been getting because of the way the king's been acting. And he delivers a famous speech which is perhaps the only bit of the play that was previously familiar to me. And when Richard shows up, John tries to set him straight, but... that doesn't go so well. Soon thereafter, John dies, and Richard and his people claim all of John's money and lands, which rightfully should be inherited by Bolingbroke. And then Richard goes to Ireland to lead his troops in battle.

While the king is away, Bolingbroke returns, and quickly gains the support of the Earl of Northumberland, and soon thereafter the Duke of York (John's brother and uncle to both Richard and Bolingbroke; played by David Suchet). I was a bit confused, because immediately after John's death, the Duke was clearly very angry at Richard, but when Bolingbroke returns, he seems loyal to the king, and angry that Bolingbroke has broken his banishment. But he does join Bolingbroke. And the commoners all seem to be on Bolingbroke's side. So, when Richard returns to England, he finds himself in danger of being deposed. Though there are still a few people loyal to him, including his cousin, Aumerle (son of the Duke of York). Anyway, Bolingbroke eventually does depose Richard, and becomes the new king, Henry IV.

And I feel like I've probably revealed a bit much, but it's necessary. And I'd say I've also left a great deal out. Definitely an interesting story, what I could follow of it. And of course there was plenty of great dialogue, even if I didn't understand all of it. It was all pretty well acted. (I gotta say I found Richard to be rather hammy, I mean the character, whether he was happy or egotistical or devastated, in any given scene. So he was definitely the most fun to watch and listen to, which is appropriate, seeing as the play's named for him.) Hmmm, I've only named two actors in the movie, as they're the only two I felt really familiar with (and I wouldn't have even recognized Suchet, if I hadn't known it was him and been trying really hard to recognize him). I may have seen some others in other stuff, or not. But they were all good. And I'm probably forgetting other things I wanted to say. But surely I've said the most important stuff. I guess.

Henry IV, Part 1
BBC; PBS; Wikipedia

Caution: as I said before, spoilers.

First of all I should say that this must be set in 1403, because the story culminates in the Battle of Shrewsbury. But until I looked that up the day after watching the movie, it seemed to me that the movie must be set like a couple decades after the first movie in the miniseries, rather than just a few years later. I also want to mention that it seems a bit odd to me that the play is called "Henry IV," when the king actually plays a fairly minor role in the story. It's mostly about his son, Harry (aka Hal), the Prince of Wales (who is played by Tom Hiddleston). As far as I could tell, Hal wasn't in, or even mentioned in, the first movie. Incidentally, there are at least a couple of roles played by different actors in this movie than in the first, including King Henry (who is now played by Jeremy Irons) and the Earl of Northumberland. (Aside from Hiddleston and Irons, I don't think this movie had any actors who were particularly familiar to me.)

Anyway, Hal is a great disappointment to Henry, since he basically spends all his time hanging out with disreputable types in a tavern run by a woman named Mistress Quickly. Hal's best friend seems to be of fairly noble blood, though I didn't catch his name or title or anything. The one really important character Hal associates with is a fat, cowardly, liar named Jack Falstaff, who I guess is supposed to be a knight, but mostly he's a drunkard and a thief. And there are some other drunkards who hang out at the tavern, but none of them are really important. (One of them is Bardolph, who I guess is Falstaff's best friend, and lieutenant or something. He becomes a bit more important in the next two movies.) Falstaff provides most of the play's comedy. Also, near the end, he provides a quote which has since been changed around a bit (in both syntax and meaning) to become "discretion is the better part of valour," which is probably the only thing from the play with which I was previously even remotely familiar. (I had at least heard the name "Falstaff" before, though I knew nothing about the character, nor did I associate him, or this play, with the quote.)

Henry wishes Hal could be more like Henry Percy (aka Hotspur), the son of the Earl of Northumberland. Hotspur had, I guess, won some battle on behalf of the king, defeating the Earl of Douglas. However, Hotspur's father, as well as his uncle, the Earl of Worcester, had old complaints against the king. And Hotspur himself was upset with the king because of... something having to do with his brother-in-law, Edmund Mortimer. Again, I didn't follow everything that happened, and there were various characters whose names and relationships to other characters I don't think I always grasped. But eventually, Hotspur and his father and Worcester and I guess Mortimer and his father-in-law all plotted against King Henry, and even got help from Douglas and his men, whom Hotspur released instead of delivering them to the king. So, the king confronts his enemies at the Battle of Shrewsbury, aided by Prince Hal. The need for Hal to join in the battle, in support of his father, made for a rather abrupt transformation in the character. Falstaff also took part in the battle, but his character didn't change.

And I guess that's all I want to say about the plot. I'd say there was more humor than drama in it, but it certainly ended dramatically. The whole story was interesting, and the acting was good. And um... yeah, that's all I have to say, for now.

Henry IV, Part 2
BBC; PBS; Wikipedia

Caution: as I said before, spoilers.

I think I had even more trouble following everything that went on, this time. There really were whole scenes where I had essentially no idea what anyone was talking about; it was all I could do to be aware of characters' attitudes. But of course, there were also scenes where I had somewhat more idea of what was going on. Um... so, at the end of Henry IV part 1, the king's forces defeated the rebels at the Battle of Shrewsbury. However, some of his enemies survived, and in part 2, we see some more enemies, as well as more allies, most of whose names and titles I didn't catch. But I do know one of his enemies was the Archbishop of York. Also, I said that at the end of part 1, Prince Hal's personality seemed to change... but by the start of part 2, he was basically his old self again. (Or at least, everyone assumed he was, though in truth he was more concerned that if he started acting more maturely, people would think he was just being a hypocrite.) Though we actually see a lot less of him this time than we did last time. He spent most of his time hanging out with his friend Poins, who I suppose was the friend I mentioned last time, whose name I didn't catch. Anyway, we do see more of King Henry this time, but I feel like the character we saw the most of was Falstaff... though unlike part 1, this time he was almost never seen in Hal's company.

Falstaff owed money to various people, but he had no money. He kept saying he was going to come into money, but if he said how this was going to happen, I didn't catch that. In fact I failed to follow most of what was going on with him, I just know most people he ever spoke to were upset with him. And eventually he and Bardolph went off to recruit some potential soldiers (who had been assembled by someone named Shallow, who I think was an old friend of Falstaff's), but not much came of that. Um... also not much came of the rebels' plans. Battle was essentially averted by Prince John of Lancaster, apparently Henry's second oldest son, after Hal. (We see two more of Henry's sons, but they didn't seem to be of any great importance to the story.) Meanwhile, Henry is gravely ill for the whole movie, and is still concerned about whether Hal is fit to succeed him when he dies. But eventually Hal reconciles with his father, and when Henry dies, Hal becomes King Henry V. Falstaff is happy when he hears of this, thinking his old friend will make him an important man. However, Hal has decided that to abandon his old lifestyle and become a serious king means he must also abandon his old friends.

And that's pretty much all I can say, except that at one point, Henry IV had a soliloquy that of course I mostly failed to follow, but it ended with the familiar line, "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown." That's probably the only thing about this play that was familiar to me. Anyway... for the most part I guess I liked this installment less than the first two, but I mostly enjoyed the few bits I understood.

Henry V
BBC; PBS; Wikipedia

Caution: as I said before, spoilers.

At the start of the movie, Henry V is dead. Then the story jumps back to shortly after he'd become king. The Archbishop of Canterbury encourages Henry to go to war against France. As far as I could tell, the main reason was that one of Henry's ancestors had once been king of France, or something, so Henry deserves to be king of both France and England, himself. A French ambassador, Montjoy, comes to entreat Henry not to go to war. He brings a gift from the Dauphin (the prince of France), but it turns out to be a chest full of tennis balls. This makes Henry very angry, so he declares he will go to war.

Early in the movie (before the war), Falstaff dies of some illness. Meanwhile, Mistress Quickly had gotten married to Pistol, one of the drunkards from "Henry IV Part 2," who had seemed of no importance to me. Pistol had some quarrel with a corporal named Nym, whom I don't recall being in any of the previous movies. But Bardolph convinced Pistol and Nym to renew their friendship. The three of them will take part in the war against France, though for the most part they again seemed to be of little importance. There was one scene with (or about) Bardolph that was rather sad- and I could tell Henry had a moment of sadness about it, before steeling his resolve about... a matter I don't feel the need to go into. And there are a couple of scenes involving Henry and a soldier named Williams, which I also don't feel like going into. (I know his name is Williams because I read it online while working on this review; while watching the movie last night, I thought the guy was Nym.)

There's also a scene between the King of France's daughter, Katherine, and her lady-in-waiting, Alice. The scene is entirely in French (without subtitles), so I had no idea what the point of it was, except that Alice seemed to be teaching Katherine the English words for several body parts. And they seemed to find it amusing.

Well, lots of other stuff happens, and there are lots of characters whose names I didn't bother to remember. But throughout the movie, there is narration from someone called the Chorus. And throughout the movie we see a boy who had worked for Falstaff before his death. It didn't seem to me like the boy did anything worth mentioning, though in the end, we learn that the Chorus is actually that same boy, telling us this story many years later, as an old man. Other than that, I can also say the movie has some familiar quotes, most notably Henry's famous "Saint Crispin's Day Speech," before the Battle of Agincourt (which happened in 1415). Anyway, the English win the war, and later, Henry professes his love for Princess Katherine (whom I never saw him meet until this scene). By then her English is somewhat better than the last time we saw her, though it's still not great (but probably better than Henry's French). So, all that kind of seemed sudden to me. But soon after that, the movie wraps up where it began, with Henry's death. (There's a bit of historical info printed on the screen that says he died in 1422, which I think is the only time I saw or heard a year mentioned in any of these movies. When I've mentioned years, I've learned them on Wikipedia. I'm not at all sure the movies or the plays on which they're based pay attention to actual historical dates, because I get the impression a lot less time passes between scenes in the story than passed in reality.) There were definitely bits of the movie that I liked and bits I didn't, regardless of whether or not I completely followed what was going on. But overall, it was decent. And I guess that's all there is to say.

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