Friday, November 4, 2016

TV Review: The Hollow Crown: Henry VI Part 1 (2016)

The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses: Henry VI Part 1 (2016) directed by Dominic Cooke based on Shakespeare's plays

For the previous Hollow Crown series, see my reviews of Richard II, Henry IV Part 1 and Part 2, and Henry V.

Following the death of King Henry V, his infant son is crowned king. Naturally Henry VI cannot rule so his uncle, the Duke of Gloucester (Hugh Bonneville), becomes Lord Protector. Henry V's conquests in France begin to slip away. Henry VI grows up but hardly seems like an adult among the lords of Parliament. Gloucester always acts with his nephew's best interests. Others strive to undermine his influence and take his place as trusted advisor. Some even maneuver to become king of England. The reconquest of France goes poorly (thanks a lot, Joan of Arc!), enabling further mischief and machinations in the royal court. Somerset (Ben Miles) finds a French noble wife for Henry, though she is more in Somerset's sway and has many more ambitions beyond being Henry's wife. Henry himself is a weak king. His interest in religion and prayer are a detriment to his royal duties. Like his father before him, he seems unfit to wear the crown. Unlike his father, he does not have a transformative experience into a warrior king, leaving Henry VI subject to whatever  political wind prevails. It's not a good situation and leads the country into civil war.

This second series of The Hollow Crown is subtitled The Wars of the Roses. In an early scene, Richard Plantagenet confers with a handful of other nobles. He has a claim to the throne and wants to find out who would back him. He plucks a white rose from a nearby bush. Others pluck white roses in support of him or red roses in support of Somerset from the house of Lancaster. The Duke of Gloucester is not there and he does remain the king's true servant, even after his wife is banished for consorting with the occult against Henry. Gloucester's enemies use this as an excuse to implicate Gloucester, with tragic results. By the end, Plantagenet makes his claim for the crown and rallies his sons, including his hunchbacked son also named Richard (Benedict Cumberbatch).

The political intrigue is more fascinating than I was anticipating. Backstabbing nobles don't always make the most interesting or compelling characters, but the writing is excellent and the characters well drawn. The actors are uniformly wonderful and deliver the Shakespearean dialogue with naturalness and conviction.

I can't wait for Part 2!

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