Henry V

Kenneth Branagh’s superb version of the Shakespeare play, which he directed and adapted as well as stars in, presents a distinctly different view of this work from Laurence Olivier’s 1945 movie. While the earlier film, made during the war, was intended to whip up patriotic sentiment, Branagh’s version has a much darker view of England’s defeat of France, more relevant in certain respects to World War I. (The climactic battle is muddy, gory, and marked by the looting of corpses, and after it’s over, Henry’s face is streaked with blood and grime like a Jackson Pollock painting.) Another way of reading the difference would be to follow the argument that Henry stood at the crossroads between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance; while Olivier’s vantage point was more that of the Renaissance, Branagh’s, like Orson Welles’s in Chimes at Midnight (1966)–an obvious influence and reference point–is closer to the Middle Ages. It should be added, however, that Branagh is no more a creative filmmaker like Welles than Olivier was; the value of this film, apart from the strength and confidence of its interpretation, lies in the degree to which it makes Shakespeare’s language and meanings lucid and accessible. The cast–including Derek Jacobi as the modern-dress chorus, Paul Scofield as the French king, Judi Dench as Mistress Quickly, Ian Holm as Fluellen, Emma Thompson as Katherine, and Robbie Coltrane in an effective cameo as Falstaff–is uniformly fine without any grandstanding, The only hint of occasional excess occurs in Pat Doyle’s score. (Fine Arts)

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