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.