TV REVIEW: The Hollow Crown - Henry IV Part One

The Hollow Crown continues this week with Henry IV Part One, the second in the tetralogy of history plays and a personal favourite of both of us here at Assorted Buffery. With Richard II establishing Henry Bolingbroke as King, Shakespeare moves into showing the events of his troubled reign.

Henry IV Part One follows the rise of Prince Hal (Tom Hiddleston) from drunken reprobate to warrior heir apparent after his father, King Henry (Jeremy Irons) faces an uprising from the Welsh rebel, Owen Glendower (Robert Pugh) and Harry Hotspur (Joe Armstrong). Beginning in East Cheap with Poins, Shakespearian Unsung Hero Number 10 (David Dawson), Mistress Quickly (Julie Walters) and the excessive drinker and cowardly storyteller, John Falstaff (Simon Russell Beale), Hal must grow up from playing pranks to leading his father's army and, as this is Shakespeare, we get tragedy, fearsome confrontations and more than your usual amount of debauchery.

As with Richard II, the action flits between several places as the play follows the King, his son and the rebellious Hotspur throughout, but unlike the previous episode, the cuts in between felt a lot more measured and well-judged. The tavern scenes in particular were a highlight, providing much of the comedy as Hal and Poins humiliate Falstaff repeatedly for no particular reason other than that they can. The battle scenes towards the end of the play did betray the episode's budget somewhat as, rather than being treated to extensive armies a la Lord of the Rings, we got close-ups of twenty men crammed into a shot to make it look like there's a lot. Thankfully, it didn't detract too much from the drama itself as once the fighting started, the frenetic battling was enough to hold your attention. My only complaint was that they didn't include the hilarious scenes in which Hotspur's ally, the Douglas, marches round the battlefield attempting to kill the King, only to repeatedly discover he's just killed another man dressed like the King. However, when you've got Falstaff bumbling through the battle trying not to die, the laughs were still there to be had.

It's safe to say that there is not one bad performance in this entire episode. The minor characters, particularly those in the tavern, provide a great background for the central figures to shine, supporting them well. Even Maxine Peake managed to steal a scene without saying more than one or two lines. Simon Russell Beale's Falstaff was every inch the drunken, bombastic figure that we all know and love, combining the comic and tragic inherent in the character well, especially in the scene in which he is 'playing' Hal. His plea to not leave Falstaff behind was heartbreaking, a man desperate to cling on to what little vicarious glory he has left. As the wilful and aptly-named Hotspur, Joe Armstrong was a forceful presence and never resorted to simply playing the villain. Hotspur in the play provides an opposite character arc to Hal, beginning as noble and honourable before falling too far from grace to be truly redeemed and Armstrong captured his inner conflict perfectly. Michelle Dockery, as his wife Kate, provided a great foil to her husband with excellent chemistry between the pair showing a fiery marriage based on a mutual respect, adding to the tragedy of the play's outcome. 

But Part One belonged very much to Jeremy Irons and Tom Hiddleston as the central father and son who begin in conflict but end united. Hiddleston's star is firmly in the ascendancy after fantastic performances in big blockbusters like Avengers Assemble, but here he proves he can play the conflicted hero too. In the afore-mentioned play scene in the tavern, the moment in which he realises that he must re-take his place at the heir apparent was excellently pitched with just the loss of a smile to convey a key character development. Also, his impression of Jeremy Irons was brilliant, spot-on in everything from intonation to posture, providing extra comedy to an already funny scene. Irons' acting talent has long been something to be reckoned with and their confrontation scene was a masterclass to watch. As a king struggling to hold on to a legacy that was never his to begin with, Irons lets the conflicted emotions come to the forefront, the guilt at his own situation and the rage towards his son filling every single line. 

My expectations were particularly high as it is the play I've been most looking forward to seeing adapted, but Henry IV Part One more than surpassed them, offering all of the themes that make the play so compelling. Next week, we're into the sequel, Henry IV Part Two, as we see a father and son united and Hal moves further away from Falstaff to his destiny as the future King of England.

- Becky

You can read Becky's review of The Hollow Crown - Richard II here.

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