Life’s but a walking shadow


With no more tickets on the mantelpiece, and no more big London productions on the horizon (no, I haven’t got tickets for Hamlet with Benedict Cumberbatch, along with most of the world…) I am turning to film for a Shakespeare kick.

A few weeks ago I re-watched Shakespeare in love (which feels like it almost counts as canon) and I am currently watching The Hollow Crown. I totally managed to miss them when they were on in 2012 (too busy watching synchronised swimming?) but I can see why they were so widely praised. Richard II in particular was fantastic – both in dramatic direction and so visually stunning. I had distant memories of having seen it some years ago, with Ralph Fiennes in the title role, but the only bits which had really stuck in my mind were the “sceptered isle” speech and an odd bit of slapstick with various hot-heads running out of gloves with which to challenge one another. This time round it seemed beautifully, wonderfully clear, and I’m looking forward to catching it on stage. Ben Wishaw was outstanding as a fey, unworldly monarch though – I don’t think anyone else could do it as well.

I’ve watched Henry IV as well – both parts – and they seem to have less to them. Perhaps it’s the very nature of a history play, that it won’t necessarily have a perfect story arc, but I found neither the story of the rebellion nor the playboy prince totally compelling. After all, how much can I care about a threat to Henry’s throne, when we know he took it from Richard? And how can I care about the idle doings of a drunken gang, who seem not just hedonistic but unprincipled, and where I cannot but agree with Hal’s father that he behaves very badly? And the final pay-off seems unfair – can Hal only be a good king by being gratuitously rude to his old companion? (Poor Simon Russell Beale, he’s not coming out of this year terribly well…)

I’m still looking forward to watch Henry V – and it will be interesting to see it after the set-up. Like most English people, I have seen both Laurence Olivier’s and Kenneth Branagh’s version (it’s compulsory before they let you have a passport, right?) but I think there is more to be found in it. It’s been a Hiddleston-heavy Shakespeare year, but I don’t think I regret it…

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