Continuing from Part I, Henry IV Part II lends itself to a lighter interpretation due to the even higher comic content in its examination of the quirks of the human being, in particular of the Englishman. With one insurrection quashed by Hal’s victory over Hotspur, another mounts up to threaten England and in quashing it, Henry IV hastens his own death. The young Prince Hal now has to step up even further to the mark as his heir, all the while resisting the ever-present grasping hands of Falstaff who wants to milk his relationship to the future King for all it is worth.
I’m not sure what it was about this show that made me like it so much more than Part I, but I felt that the whole ensemble was pulling together much stronger: Susan Brown as Mistress Quickly and Eve Myles as Doll Tearsheet,the two women hankering after Falstaff were both good, Jeffery Kisoon as a fading Lord Percy roused great emotion for his fallen son and Gambon continues his excellent comic work.
David Bradley was much better here as the physically frailer King on his deathbed, stretched by his doubts and self-pity, but John Wood and Adrian Scarborough as Justices Shallow and Silence are scene-stealingly good with their comic relief scenes which were probably the best bits of the entire six hours. Scarborough is especially good as he also plays Hal’s sidekick Poins with little time to change but managing to affect a massively different physical performance.
Having seen Part II and enjoyed it so much more, I actually want to revisit Part I with a different mindset to see what I was missing. Much is done through the use of body language and I don’t think I was paying enough attention to that, rather listening intently to the language so perhaps much of that passed me by. As it stands though, together this Henry IV is a strong six hour epic which is at its best when focusing uncomplicatedly on the humour.