- Laurence Olivier
- Reviewed by
- Gon Curiel a.k.a. Groucho
- Review date
- Thursday, February 10, 2005
The film presents itself in a rather ingenious way. We’re not transported to the times of the King the play is about, but rather to the Globe theatre of the 16th Century, where Shakespeare’s plays were presented regularly. It’s a weird turn but it works fine, as we get the feeling of how plays were staged and how people behaved during the show. I loved the idea also because this play in particular emphasizes (through the Chorus, played by Leslie Banks) the fact that only through imagination can the spectators really be absorbed by what the story offers. The film gradually becomes more real, taking us from the stage to bigger fields and castles, if not very realistic, but not stagy either. Little by little, as we’re more and more immersed in the story, the stages become more real. The film doesn’t make the story easy for us, but it doesn’t make us work as hard as if we were watching the play only. It’s a beautiful way of interpreting the experience of original spectators.
Laurence Olivier thought of this film as a means to boost the British’s morality during World War II. It was indeed a good idea, though the story suffered from this tendency by the obligatory maiming of some of its scenes that would be too crude to present to a contemporary soldier whose energy you want to feed for battle. Nevertheless, it’s the perfect tool, and Olivier in the lead is the perfect example of a good, motivating leader during hazardous times. The story has King Harry of England (a.k.a. Henry V) declaring war to the French after France proposes a law that would cut off the King of England from the aspiration of eventually inheriting that throne. Not all the English agree that it’s a fair war, but they go anyway because they have no choice. It’s up to the King to show them that the cause is good, but more than anything that they must fight for their country regardless of the good or bad intentions of their leader. Eventually, they fight like there’s no tomorrow, and win.
Olivier chose to present the film in glorious color which makes the settings much more vivid than one could have expected. It’s amazing how this accentuates the play’s tone, exactly the same way that the black and white photography emphasized the gloomy mood of “Hamlet” in his film adaptation years later. And though the play requires us to use our imagination to fully appreciate it (even specifically asking us to imagine the horses when they are mentioned), there is an amazing battle scene that really astounded me. I didn’t expect it to be there but it was, and I didn’t think it was too obvious or too subtle, it was just perfect.
Accompanying Olivier is a wonderful cast comprised by Nicholas Hannen as Exeter, Ralph Truman as Mountjoy, Felix Aylmer as the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Helpmann as the Bishop of Ely, Roy Emerton as Bardolph, Robert Newton as Pistol, Max Adrian as the Dauphin, Esmond Knight as Fluellen, Renée Asherson as Princess Katharine, Harcourt Williams as the King of France, and many more.
A dramatic, humorous, motivating, eye-popping film. Highly recommendable.
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