Finally a TV adaptation of a Shakespeare play that the Bard himself would have been proud of. All too often, television directors fall into the trap of thinking that a television adaptation of Shakespeare should be exactly like a stage play. For that reason, we’ve had to endure dozens of tedious productions full of windbaggery and embarrasing over acting from theatre legends such as John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson. In contrast, Richard Eyres used the medium of TV to his advantage in Henry IV part I. Eyres used intimate scenes, close ups, a powerful soundtrack and carefully chosen exterior locations to produce a piece of work that will be remembered for years to come.
Funnily enough, it was Simon Russell Beale – a stage veteran rather than a TV star – who stole the show as Sir John Falstaff. His interactions with Mistress Quickly (Julie Walters) were particularly amusing but from start to finish he delivered an acting masterclass. Jeremy Irons’ portrayal of the title character was a bit like his portrayal of Scar in the Lion King. He was brooding, sinister and frankly not someone you’d invite over for dinner. Tom Hiddleston as Hal gave Beale a run for his money as the star of the show and Alun Armstrong was equally strong as Percy.
People often talk of “star studded shows” but Henry IV really was over loaded with top notch talent. People like Ronald Pickup and John Duggan made the most of small roles while Silk’s Maxine Peake was eye catching as a non-speaking extra. The only actor who seemed out of sorts was Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery who looked and sounded too 20th century and too upper class to have anything to do with 14th century England. The other actors had little trouble with the dialogue while Dockery stumbled over her words like a school kid being presented with archaic text for the very first time. Nevertheless, the pros far outweighed the cons in this masterful production.
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