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Henry V

September 23, 2012

by John Farr

John Farr discusses the exceptional adaptation of Shakespeare’s finest historical play, starring and directed by Kenneth Branagh.

Henry V (1989)

What It’s About:
When a flap-up with King Charles of France (Paul Scofield) escalates into full-blown war, England’s hotheaded soldier-king Henry V (Kenneth Branagh) assembles an army to invade the Gallic homeland. Drastically outnumbered, Henry rallies courage and leads his men to victory at the Battle of Agincourt, all the while wooing France’s comely Princess Catherine (Emma Thompson).

Why I Love It:
With this exceptional adaptation of Shakespeare’s finest historical play, English upstart Kenneth Branagh proved himself worthy of the heights set by Sir Laurence Olivier, whose own 1944 production still shines. Branagh updated the look and feel of the Bard’s drama for modern film-going audiences, making Prince Hal a ferocious, charismatic hero of the battlefield and giving his mud- and blood-soaked war scenes a visceral punch. Plus, how can you argue with a cast that includes luminaries like Dench, Holm, Jacobi, and a who’s who of British theater?

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  • Patricia Gilman

    I LOVE this adaptation of Henry V. I think it’s brilliant.


    Despite some abstruse alternate interpretations in wikipedia about Stendhal’s use of “To The Happy Few” in “The Red & The Black,” the OBVIOUS allusion to Henry’s speech before the battle of Agincourt, ALONE makes it amongst Shakespeare’s most significant influences on The Way we THINK, what with that being the first novel to treat an ordinary person as tragic realistically. The tv series title, “Band of Brothers,” also comes from that speech, which one might well consider THE Supreme example of Leadership EVER depicted. Note how he RELATES the ensuing fracas in terms of life’s most ordinary, cherished moments. With all due respect, John, the realistic cinematography and star names are the LEAST impressive aspect. Branaugh’s nearly lay person’s diction is what makes it so powerful, and sets it apart from Olivier’s stilted portrayal, the entirety of which can’t touch a candle to a single scene of Branaugh’s, like strolling the camp the night before, incognito. And OHHH, the MUSIC! I shudder and sigh at the mere mention of it, particularly in that scene. P.S. Michael Keaton’s boob-faced sidekick in “Much Ado” wrote the score!