It’s my favourite time here on the blog, which means only one thing: a film adaptation with Kenneth Branagh! Expect plenty of gushing, especially as it was his directorial debut and it’s really awesome. And that’s saying something for a Shakespeare film from 1989. Take a look at the trailer below and then on to the review.
Cast highlights include Kenneth Branagh (of course) as Henry V and Emma Thompson as Katharine. I’ll talk about their combined awesomeness later. Other actors of note include Judi Dench as Hostess Quickly and a very young (like mid-teens) Christian Bale as Boy (I skipped this character in the play review. He’s not super interesting in the play but Branagh makes him a sympathetic character in the film).
The costume design is quite lovely (it even won an Oscar in 1990) and the sets are simple, understated, and entirely passable for a real castle. Also worth noting is the score, which has that really great cinematic feel a film like this needs. So on to the highlights of the film itself.
First thing worth noting is that Branagh has actually included the Chorus in this film. However, rather than a small group of actors, we have a single actor in plain modern dress addressing the camera. While it might seem an odd choice to keep these scenes in, it works really well, partially because of how they’re shot, partially because of how amazing the actor playing the chorus is, and partially (in my biased opinion) because Kenneth Branagh makes everything awesome. I highly recommend you check out the prologue to see what I mean.
The score isn’t the only cinematic thing going on in this film. Branagh unabashedly uses some highly dramatic shots to really make the film more impressive. From his first entrance as Henry V which is all about the impressive power walk (which is only made slightly less impressive by the amount of eyeliner he’s wearing in the following shots) to the scene where he delivers the line of “Once more unto the breach” backlit by an explosion while sitting on a rearing white horse, Branagh brings the drama. There are also some truly beautiful shots such as the wide angle when he negotiates with the governor of Harfleur, sitting on his horse in a patch of moonlight.
Branagh also proves his brilliance as a screenplay adapter, as he includes flashbacks in the film to give us brief shots of Falstaff (played by Hagrid!) and Henry in his wilder days and using small sections of scenes from Henry IV Part 1. He’s also cut down the scenes for Bardolph and co. as well as Fluellen (played by Bilbo – the not Martin Freeman one), and instead gives the greater focus to Henry V and the narrative of a man proving himself as a king.
Perhaps the best aspect of this film is how well it does at actually including battle scenes. Unlike the other history plays I’ve watched up to now, there’s no skirting around the battle scenes. Instead, the battle of Agincourt gets a solid 10-15 minutes of screen time in which Branagh does an admirable job of capturing the chaos and horrific grossness of battle. This is also the moment where young Christian Bale does his best work by (SPOILER ALERT) playing a very sad corpse. (END SPOILER)
However, my favourite scene is at the end when Henry comes to court Katharine. Not only do I like it because Henry is a thorough charmer and Kenneth Branagh is brilliant at pulling off his self-conscious and slightly inept attempt to win her, but I also like it because there is the amazing duo of Kenneth Branagh and the lovely Emma Thompson on screen together at the same time. While he does far more talking than she does, their chemistry is still amazing. Man, I love watching these two.
So unsurprisingly, another Kenneth Branagh adaptation that I really liked. I swear the BBC just needs to chain him to a director’s chair, get him to direct the complete works of Shakespeare, and the film review portion of this blog would be SO much more fun for me. I’ll be back on Sunday when we move into the first part of a trilogy with Henry VI Part 1.