There has been an amazing series of plays on at the Noel Coward theatre in London this year. I was fortunate to see Private Lives there this summer, so when I heard Jude Law was going to be performing Henry V this December, I was sooo excited. Of all the things we’ve missed in having to cancel our trip, this was my one real regret.
So, how easy would it be to replicate the experience in Calgary? Going to the theatre would be easy enough, but what were the chances of seeing Henry V? Nil, as it turns out, so I decided to rent the 1989 movie from the library.
I saw Kenneth Branagh’s film when it was first released and loved it. I’m not a huge Shakespeare fan – I can struggle with the language – but this version captured my imagination. It’s dark and gritty, yet has some really funny moments – dialogue so witty and contemporary that I couldn’t believe Shakespeare had written it 400 years ago, and had to pull out my copy of Henry V to make sure he had. The cast is none too shabby either and includes Judi Dench, Paul Schofield, Robert Stephens, Richard Briers, Brian Blessed, Emma Thompson, Christian Bale and Derek Jacobi.
And the lines – so many that have become part of our culture or titles for books; The Game’s Afoot. We Happy Few. Band of Brothers. Chimes at Midnight. (Admittedly Branagh borrowed that last one from Henry IV!)
Set around the Battle of Agincourt, we experience the event mostly from Henry’s POV, but also from that of ordinary soldiers and their families. We see Henry faced with choices between duty and friendship. The slaughter of innocents when a wagon of young boys are brutally cut down. A wife left at home in England who dies unexpectedly rather while her soldier husband survives the conflict. A king, disguising himself, to move amongst his troops and learn what they really think of him. A princess, a pawn in the fight between two kings. And much more
This excerpt below depicts the aftermath of the battle as an exhausted Henry trudges through the battlefield, carrying one of those slaughtered children (a very young Christian Bale). It’s a sobering scene, one long single camera shot, accompanied by Patrick Doyle’s glorious music.
If, like me, you don’t have the opportunity of seeing Jude Law in London this December, consider checking out Kenneth Branagh’s version in the warmth of your own home.