Ever since the announcement a few days ago that the bones found under a parking lot in Leicester really are those of the hunchbacked king Richard III of England, Shakespeare has been much on my mind. Yes, now that Richard is in the news much is being made of the recent efforts to rehabilitate him as a nice guy and champion of the poor. However it’s beyond dispute that Richard had his two nephews (one of whom was twelve, and the future king) imprisoned in the Tower of London and later executed. This after he had been appointed their Lord Protector, following the death of his brother, King Edward IV. Not really the actions of good guy. So if you ask me, Shakespeare had it right.
All of which reminds me that a whole lot of great Shakespeare hit the small screen last year. The Hollow Crown, a series comprising the complete saga of Henry IV, was aired by the BBC beginning in June. You owe it to yourself to check all these films out since the production values are so high and the performances so well done you barely notice the archaic Elizabethan language. Amazingly, you can see them all (Richard II, Henry IV Part 1, Henry IV Part 2 and Henry V) in their full length for free right on YouTube…and even there they look great.
Those who know this blog probably won’t be surprised to learn that Shakespeare’s history plays are right in my personal wheelhouse. But the Henry plays are about a whole lot more than late Medieval English history. They’re about fathers and sons, boyhood, manhood, courage, responsibility and sacrifice. Each of them contains at least one scene guaranteed to make a grown man get all weepy, whether it’s poor Richard finally finding freedom from the tyranny of his own ego in his cell in Pomfret castle, young prince Hal play-acting the role of his father with his drinking buddy Falstaff, or Hal’s reconciliation with his father on the king’s death bed. These plays are loaded with great stuff, especially for guys.
Ben Whishaw does a wonderful job as the wimpy, rock star-in-his-own-mind Richard II. Jeremy Irons is a fabulous strong-but-lonely Henry IV and Tom Hiddleston (Loki from The Avengers, another sort of “guy movie”) plays the sort of prince Hal that we can all see ourselves in (and that’s no easy trick). So do check these out. They’re a whole lot better than most of the gimmicky history play movies that have come out in recent years (I’m thinking of the fascist 30’s Richard III with Ian McKellan and the too-dark-version-of-the-already-dark MacBeth with Patrick Stewart). The Hollow Crown movies are true to form and all the better for it.
But enough film criticism, it’s once more into the (kringle) breach for me today. So…onward!