TV REVIEW: The Hollow Crown - Henry IV Part Two

The third episode of The Hollow Crown and the second part of Henry IV follows the aftermath of the Battle of Shrewsbury, the decaying relationship between Prince Hal and Falstaff and the King dealing with the rebellions which continue to flourish in an uneasy England.

Lord Northumberland learns of Harry Hotspur's death and flees to Scotland for safety. The Archbishop of York plots another rebellion against Henry IV who is weakening after the toll of the battle. Hal is still torn between his old life and his new role as the heir apparent and has to come to terms with the fact that he soon might be King. Meanwhile, Falstaff is being chased by the Lord Justice, determined to keep him away from corrupting the young prince once again, but Falstaff is confident in Hal's love for him, believing that once Hal is King, he will bestow Royal offices upon his portly friend.

While still possessing the bawdy comedy and the slapstick of the first part of Henry IV, Part Two is a much more serious piece of work, dealing with the complications of growing up and accepting your responsibilities. The journey here is Prince Hal's, begun in Part One, but reaching its destination in Part Two as he cements his position as the honourable heir apparent and shedding the rebellious youth who we saw in the previous play. Tom Hiddleston, reliable as ever, manages to avoid falling into the trap of playing the two as very different halves of the same person, but instead gives us a nuanced performance that captures the development of Hal. The cheeky prankster is still there but is measured by his realisation that shedding Falstaff and the other residents of East Cheep is the way to go. The coronation scene in which Hal finally banishes Falstaff from his life and the country was emotional, both in terms of seeing finally become King Henry V but also the act of banishment itself. Simon Russell Beale has portrayed one of Shakespeare's most famous characters with a great balance of both the comic and tragic elements that Falstaff possesses.

As always with Shakespeare, a lot of the very important character developments are shown through the use of soliloquy and the two most powerful scenes in this episode were those given over to Henry and Hal as they contemplate the effects of kingship, for as Henry mournfully observes, 'uneasy lies the head that wears the crown'. Both Jeremy Irons and Hiddleston capture your attention in their separate moments and the setting of both scenes in the throne room really develop the sense of the inevitablity of kingship. Hal is very aware that his father's death is necessary for him to become King and the internal conflict of this was well-pitched and enhanced the emotional weight of the scene. The focus isn't all on the kingly pair though with Hal's younger brother John also getting a look in on the action. His takedown of the rebellion alongside Westmoreland was a properly triumphant moment and whilst not entirely honourable, it was a well-handled bait-and-switch for both the audience and the doomed rebels.

The episode's shortcomings are few but can probably be traced back to the play itself. Nowhere near as famous as the plays that come before or after, it is also not as strong structurally or dramatically. The few standout scenes I've mentioned are just that, exceptional pieces of theatre that provide great moments for actors and audiences alike. However, those in between lack some of the punch of the other moments. Whilst the farcical chase between the Lord Justice and Falstaff culminating in all out street brawl would probably work very well on stage, on screen it felt out of place with the more sombre tone that Part Two took. I'm well aware of the necessity to further separate the characters of Hal and Falstaff, but the jumps in tone sometimes felt a little jarring. That being said, I would watch Julie Walters in anything and her take on the beleaguered Mistress Quickly was one of the highlights of both plays.

The Hollow Crown is one impressive piece of television and I'm already eagerly awaiting the next instalment. Whilst Part Two didn't quite match up to the dizzying heights set by the truly brilliant Henry IV Part One, it held its own for the most part and gave Irons, Hiddleston and Beale plenty of moments to shine. Next week, we get to see Hal as Henry V in all his St. Crispin's Day glory and I'm already feeling just that little bit more patriotic.

- Becky

You can read both Becky's and Jen's reviews for Henry IV Part One here and here.
Or follow Becky on Twitter @beckygracelea


BOOK REVIEW: Fifty Shades of Grey