Henry V

A part of this view­ing listCriterion Collection Spine #41: Laurence Olivier’s Henry V.

There’s an aw­ful lot of British “Adieuing” in this play about the Battle of Agincourt. Had to get that out of my sys­tem. This is film that is best talked about in terms of its his­tor­i­cal con­text, which Bruce Eder’s Criterion es­say does and which you should read. I want to write about a few things that struck me most in this adap­ta­tion.

First off, the self-ef­fac­ing in­tro­duc­tion, which begs the view­ers in­dul­gence for the in­evitable lacks of the stage-per­for­mance, rings dou­bly true and pro­pa­gandic for the ra­tioned and war torn Britain in which it was filmed and re­leased. The film is the nat­ur­al choice for rous­ing the mar­tial spir­it of Britain in a time in which it was sore­ly need­ed, and though the French are the en­e­my in the play, the au­di­ence could eas­i­ly be ex­pect­ed to trans­fer that an­i­mos­i­ty to­ward the Germans. The fit of Henry V in­to the role of pro­pa­gan­da is al­most un­nat­ur­al in its ease.

Secondly, the pro­duc­tion it­self slow­ly draws it­self away from stage play and in­to the thick of things, cul­mi­nat­ing in the ex­cit­ing Battle of Agincourt it­self. Then, just as gen­tly, we’re drawn back in­to the stage play at the end of things. I thought this was a re­mark­ably hon­est way of deal­ing with the is­sues that can plague an adap­ta­tion of a play in­to a film.

Finally, I wasn’t a fan of all the lovey-dovey with the French scenes. I rec­og­nize their im­por­tance as pro­pa­gan­da & the con­text with­in the play it­self, but in terms of all that was ex­cised from the play in or­der to make it fit in­to a film can­is­ter I think they could have made bet­ter choic­es. The pol­i­tick­ing felt tacked on.