Always interesting to see filmic adaptations of the bard, and this is a relatively heavyweight BBC effort accompanying a season of Shakespearey gear for some anniversary or other. Richard II, this first episode, they’re also doing Henry IV 1 and 2 and Henry V over the next few weeks. I’ve always loved the histories, more than ever since seeing an incredible production of the whole lot (8 plays) in two weekends at the Roundhouse in London a few of years back, which was probably my best ever experience at the theatre. The great success there was simple, elegant presentation and magnificent acting, plus an in the round design that got the audience right close and involved. You really shouldn’t need to dress this shit up. I felt the hollow crown was at its most effective when they kept it simple, and they didn’t seem able to do that all the time, a few rather smug bits of staging and quite a bit of filmic self-indulgence, which really did nothing but distract and eat up time – at 2 hours 20 they should have been able to present a pretty lightly cut version but it felt quite heavily cut in the end. Wasn’t totally convinced by all the heavy crucifixion imagery, either…
Well acted on the whole, though. Predictably great turn from Patrick Stewart as old John of Gaunt. Able support from David Suchet and I could have watched a lot more of David Morrissey. Ben Whishaw was mostly good as Richard, occasionally very good, though I feel like I’ve seen more multi-faceted portrayals and I’d have thought he’s maybe a bit young to be ideal for the role. Weakest link for me was Rory Kinnear, not bad, but seemed a little miscast as Bolingbroke, a bit heavy, a bit old, maybe? The dynamic between him and Richard didn’t seem quite right. James Purefoy was a little wasted as Mowbray, and seeing him and Kinnear side by side, I couldn’t help thinking Purefoy would have made a much better Bolingbroke – more savage, more dark, more dangerous, a better contrast with Richard.
Still, generally entertaining, and I’m very much looking forward to Jeremy Irons as Henry IV, I must say…
12 comments so far
I really loved it. I thought Whishaw was pretty terrific, but I agree with you on Kinnear. He wasn’t bad but just miscast, I thought. Really love the Richard’s death/murder scene. That monologue was amazingly shot and acted.
Agreed on the issue of James Purefoy – Bolingbroke was a political opportunist, and I got the feeling from Kinnear that he didn’t want to be there, that he was being forced into it. Purefoy is much better at playing the darker, more nuanced and ruthless characters. Plus, I find Purefoy turning into Irons more believable than Kinnear into Irons.
Can’t wait for Hiddles as Henry V.
Yeah, I think with a really good Bolingbroke, as with a good Prince Hal/Henry V, for that matter, there needs to be something scary there. Something dark, calculating, ruthless, ambitious. There surely is reluctance in Bolingbroke, but Kinnear was that bit too nice-guy-forced-into-a-bad-place, such that when he ordered the deaths of Bushy and Green, or forced Richard to give up the crown, it all seemed a bit unconvincing. I don’t know the play well enough to say for definite but I don’t think he was helped by the editing there, either, I think they cut some of the nuance out of it.
I love Shakespeare there are no good interpretations of his work here.
John of Gaunt is like a character from someones novel,plucked up then dropped sneakily into actual history, isn’t he. I always loved reading about him in history books, what a ratbag!.
Yeah, Patrick Stewart is awesome. Whenever I picture the character of Bayaz when reading your books, I always have in my mind someone that either looks like him or Terry Pratchett.
In fact, if a multi billionaire decided to invest in a First Law movie or tv series, I reckon a bearded Patrick Stewart would make a very good Bayaz.
Thought it was a fantastic adaptation of one of my favourite plays. Ben Whishaw was outstanding, though I agree about Rory Kinnear. Very odd casting choice. A bit like maybe they wanted to shoehorn him into a big part in one of the plays, and Bolingbroke was the best they could do.
Patrick Stewart definately has the voice for Bayaz – commanding, sinister. But wow you have me blown away by Pratchett. Never thought of it before, but the resemblance is strangely uncanny…
Totally offtopic reply.
Just seen a tweet from Gillian Redfearne that she is sitting looking at the cover of Red Country and it’s a thing of “utter beauty”.
Good sport Phil – but wouldn’t it be better if she felt intimidated by it?
Oh, she’s not easily intimidated.
I’m looking forward to seeing this – hopefully the ABC will get it a.s.a.p. I’m surprised that David Suchet is only “able”, but I guess a performance depends on the role as well as the actor. Is there anyone in it who would be suited to any particular characters in the stories from the world of The First Law?
Cheers for the heads up – never even realised these were being shown, which is a shame as I’ll have to chase them up on iPlayer now, or else wait for a blu-ray release.
Saw Henry IV Part 1 performed by the English Shakespeare Company in the 1980’s – first Shakespeare I ever saw on stage, and loved it – humour and battle – who could ask for more in a story? 🙂
Anyway, will see if my other half will watch Henry IV P1 tomorrow with me – watched the intro and so far looks good and very much alive. But I agree – these were made for the stage, and that’s where it will always have its greatest effect.