Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Hollow Crown

Great British actors take on Shakespeare’s Henrys

     Last year, BBC America showed a series about a number of major British actors working on Shakespearean roles either onstage, or television or film.  Some of them – Jeremy Irons, Tom Hiddleston, and Ben Whishaw, among others – were
working on a TV series called The Hollow Crown that pulled together Richard II, Henry IV, Parts 1 & 2, and Henry V.  

A Scene Looking Like a Medieval Tapestry with Dexter
     It started on PBS’s Great Performances with Richard II and it’s sort of a knockout.  It’s wonderful for Shakespearean fans.  For anyone else, it’s worth a look because British actors capture these roles in a way that makes them immediately understandable.  Even for a viewer who might not pick up on everything being said, that same viewer can get what’s happening on a couple of levels.  It’s because Shakespeare is in those British actors’ DNA the way that musicals, jazz, and country music are in American performers’ DNA.   That’s not to say that artists from other countries can’t be terrific in something that didn’t originate in their country or culture, but they have to work twice as hard and they don’t seem as immediately at ease.

Ben Whishaw as Richard II
     Ben Whishaw was an intriguing Richard II because he chose to play him not as an ascetic, but as an aesthete, and a gay one at that.  The abdication scene was a heartbreaker because he was at first so certain and then became ambivalent.  He was like the last kid picked for the sports team that gets to be the captain, screws it up out of immaturity and weakness, and then has to quit.  Rory Kinnear as
Rory Kinnear
Henry Bolingbroke, then Henry IV, was the sensitive jock who then turns tough before cutting, literally their heads, those that he thinks won’t be loyal team-mates.  

     The visual style was thrilling because it was edited in a fast, almost jerky fashion, but the locations were authentically Medieval.  Henry IV, Part 1 stars Jeremy Irons as the older Henry and Tom Hiddleston, a tantalizing F. Scott Fitzgerald in Midnight in Paris, as that willful adolescent brat Hal, who grows into Henry V.

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