“I would his troubles were expired”
The Hollow Crown rises again. Four years on from the first suite of striking televisual adaptations of Shakespeare’s history plays, the BBC continue their Shakespeare Lives season by completing the set. For theatregoers, it has been a ripe time of it – Trevor Nunn reviving The Wars of the Roses late last year and the excellent Toneelgroep Amsterdam bringing their streamlined version Kings of War to the Barbican just last month – but as you’ll see, the common thread is one of adaptation, opportunities to see the three parts of Henry VI as they are remain few and far between.
And so it proves here. Though this is entitled The Hollow Crown – The Wars of the Roses: 1. Henry VI Part 1, Ben Power and Dominic Cooke have compressed the three plays into two parts and it’s hard to argue against it really – there’s plenty here to sink your teeth into (and get your head around). Emasculated by lord protector the Duke of Gloucester (a solid Hugh Bonneville, displaying as much range as he ever does), Tom Sturridge’s Henry VI finds himself an uncertain king, a querulous youth who bends whichever way the wind blows strongest in his court, riven by dynastic rivalry.
As with the previous films, the cream of (predominantly white, it has to be said) British acting talent has flocked to the call and so every frame is a feast for the eyes. Ben Miles’ Somerset and Jason Watkins’ Suffolk over here, Adrian Dunbar’s Plantagenet and Stanley Townsend’s Warwick there, a cracking Sam West as the Bishop of Winchester. The women make their mark too – Sally Hawkins is superb as the ambitious Duchess of Gloucester agonisingly brought low, Lucy Robinson promises much to come as Young Cecily, and Sophie Okenedo is brilliant casting as Margaret of Anjou, a force of nature to be reckoned with as a frustrated queen.
Cooke’s intelligent direction also serves the piece extremely well. There’s no awkward French accents so Laura Frances-Morgan’s Joan of Arc emerges as a gutturally fearsome warrior, sex and power get literally intertwined as Margaret and Somerset’s affair gets intercut with Gloucester’s demise with some clever editing, and there’s moments of real pathos too, as in the touching moment between Talbot and his son (Philip Glenister and Max Bennett doing great work). Strong stuff all around and we’ve only just had our first glimpse of Bandysnatch Candycrush’s Richard III so there’s plenty more to come too.