Victorious, happy, glorious, for a while

July 30, 2012 at 7:58 pm (literature, Rosie B, TV)

The Hollow Crown ended with the fourth play in the series, Henry V. It was brilliant, like the whole series, and it was great to see Henry V in sequence after the two Henry IV’s.  I’ve seen Henry V several times, and the Falstaff and Mistress Quickly scene at the beginning doesn’t make much sense in a stand alone Henry V.

I thought framing the play with the funeral at beginning and end was a fine device.  At first I was puzzled when a woman in black, who I couldn’t identify, turned up at the beginning, but at the end you see her again and it makes sense.  By then you have enjoyed her as the radiant, playful Princess Katherine with rippling golden hair and a pale blue. girlish dress, and now she is transformed into a braided, draped piece of mourning and motherhood.  The adventures and romance of Henry were glorious, but short-lived.


Henry V is a play with a fantastic action hero at its centre and so there were plenty of shots of Henry galloping on a white horse, his cloak flying behind him. Tom Hiddleston looked right – the director had left off the usual pudding basin haircut -and was a young man full of energy and warmth, surrounded by a posse of capable old codgers (all excellent, and Paul Freeman as Erpingham was perfect in his smiling delivery).  Henry is an epitome of Rudyard Kipling’s If – he walks with kings (he is one) and has the common touch, all men count with him and none too much.  This was an unbombastic Henry.  Hiddleston seems to be able to do anything, so no doubt he could perform the famous motivational speeches, the once more in the breach, dear friends, and the Crispin Day one as a leader to his troops.  But he was directed to get in a huddle with his immediate comrades urging them on hoarsely, like a coach at a football team rather than Elizabeth I at Tilbury.  Very different from Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V. One of Branagh’s strengths is to convince as a leader of men, as he did in Shackleton.

They didn’t cut the Harfleur speech, when Henry threatens atrocities if the town does not surrender, as Laurence Olivier’s wartime version did.   Any modern production of a play with a war setting will emphasise the cruelties and terrors, so there were plenty of shots of the Boy, who follows the army after he picked up the St George Cross armband at the beginning reacting to the deaths and fear around him.

I thought that a production that underlined the horrors was going to rob us of excitement – the advance of the cavalry and the arrow shower, but we got them both – a lovely wide shot of the horses approaching, the English bowmen waiting and the hooves thundering closer and closer.  Not as good an arrow shower as in the Olivier and Branagh film versions, but pretty good.


Henry V is – well not pure jingoism, as nothing Shakespeare ever does is pure and simple – cynics, nay sayers and no-shows have their turns  – it’s got a touch of the Wilfred Owen among the Rupert Brookery   – but full on aggressive patriotism, with everyone in the play telling us how marvellous Henry V is – and of course he is marvellous, like James Bond with heavier responsibilities.  His enemy is a sneery  Dauphin (Edward Akrout, an English bloke’s nightmare of a handsome, French dude advertising perfume).  The Dauphin and his henchmen are arrogant sods whose horses wear dressy armour – that concertinaed neck protector on the Dauphin’s horse looked amazing.  The English stand stoically covered in mud.  If there any image of Frenchman vs Englishman that has staying power with the English, this one is it, the flashy smoothy vs the dogged rough substance.

Like James Bond Henry gets the girl, who is delightful and French to boot (Melanie Thierry – utterly charming, whether giggly or serious).  When in the final wooing scene Henry adds to his other virtues a GSOH and amusing self-deprecation and the beautiful young Prince and Princess kiss each other, it’s the end of a fairy tale, but they do not of course live happily ever after   Henry dies, and England bleeds.   The Chorus in the play tells us so, this production showed us, that glory existed but was cut short.


  1. Roger McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

    Infuriatingly they seem to have taken the whole series off iplayer rather than leaving it on for a month as I expected – so I’ll just have to take your word on Henry V until they repeat it,

  2. Rosie said,

    Hey, I’m sorry about that. I thought you would know what that jointed concertina piece of ironmongery on the Dauphin’s horse’s neck is called.

    • Roger McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

      Sadly I do and didn’t even have to look it up: horse armour in general was called barding, the head armour was the chamfron and neck armour the criniere.

      These became much more important with the advent of the longbow as having a fully armoured man on an unarmoured or poorly armoured horse proved catastrophic for the French in the earlier battles of the Hundred Years War as arrows were generally not aimed by shot in salvos in an arc that would descend from above and hit the poor warhorses in the rump and back.

      And warhorses did get bigger and slower the more armour that had to be piled on to them – the closest modern breed to a medieval destrier would actually be a shire horse – but what director is going to want them plodding across a muddy field.

      Warhorses were like armour also hugely expensive and (there is a Marxist angle….) became more so with each advance in the armourer’s art – thus driving forward the concentration of noble estates, the exploitation of the peasantry and the institution of state tax and spending mechanisms to pay for them when the feudal system ceased to be able to supply properly equipped and trained knights for the king.

      And I am not even a scholar in this field – just have a near perfect memory for every bit of useless trivia I’ve ever encountered.

      • Roger McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

        Also have a meta-theory about the massively under-rated role of changes in military technology in world economic history – for instance the invention of the bayonet in the 1680s (which initially was just a desperate musketeer noticing that if he stuck the pommel of his dagger into the gun barrel he suddenly had a serviceable spear he could use to fight off enemy cavalry rather than having to run and hide behind the pikemen every few minutes) by allowing the formation of true mass armies was as revolutionary as that of the steam engine – it led for instance to the creation of the national debt by William III to pay for all the additional troops he now had to raise – and this in turn created whole new levels of financial instruments and institutions.

  3. pinkagendist said,

    If you thought that was brilliant you’ve had a bit too much shiraz…

  4. les said,

    “A good sherris sack hath a two-fold operation in it. It ascends me into the brain; dries me there all the foolish and dull and crudy vapours which environ it; makes it apprehensive, quick, forgetive, full of nimble fiery and delectable shapes, which, delivered o’er to the voice, the tongue, which is the birth, becomes excellent wit. The second property of your excellent sherris is, the warming of the blood; which, before cold and settled, left the liver white and pale, which is the badge of pusillanimity and cowardice; but the sherris warms it and makes it course from the inwards to the parts extreme: it illumineth the face, which as a beacon gives warning to all the rest of this little kingdom, man, to arm; and then the vital commoners and inland petty spirits muster me all to their captain, the heart, who, great and puffed up with this retinue, doth any deed of courage; and this valour comes of sherris. So that skill in the weapon is nothing without sack, for that sets it a-work; and learning a mere hoard of gold kept by a devil, till sack commences it and sets it in act and use. Hereof comes it that Prince Harry is valiant; for the cold blood he did naturally inherit of his father, he hath, like lean, sterile and bare land, manured, husbanded and tilled with excellent endeavour of drinking good and good store of fertile sherris, that he is become very hot and valiant. If I had a thousand sons, the first humane principle I would teach them should be, to forswear thin potations and to addict themselves to sack.”

  5. Rosie said,

    horse armour in general was called barding, the head armour was the chamfron and neck armour the criniere.

    Very euphonious, and French of course.

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