In the last episode of The Hollow Crown, the irresponsible Prince Hal of Henry IV fully transformed into the noble, wise, bold King Henry V (Tom Hiddleston). Now, in Henry V, he marches his small army over to France to make his claim on the land, after the urging of his advisors and an insult from the Dauphin (Edward Akrout), the French king’s arrogant son. With rousing speeches and smart military tactics, Henry V first takes the fortified town of Harfleur before moving toward Agincourt. However, the English army is greatly weakened in the long journey and are dismayed to find that they are greatly outnumbered by the French when the armies finally meet. On the eve of the battle, Henry V disguises himself and walks among his troops to discover their true feelings toward him and toward the upcoming fight, some of which are positive and some negative. In the morning, the devout king prays to God for victory and gives a final, powerful, visionary speech to his loyal captains. The battle commences, with Henry V fighting on the field amongst his men. At the end, the king is astounded to learn that the French have lost 10,000 men and the English only a mere handful. The defeated French king acquiesces to Henry V’s demands, offering his daughter Katherine’s (Mélanie Thiérry) hand in marriage in order to forge a French-English union. The English return home victorious. Sadly, Henry V is bookended by the heroic king’s death at 35, leaving his infant son Henry VI to lose all that was gained in France.
This triumphant and patriotic tale of English superiority over their long-standing rivals across the Channel offers a much more straightforward story than The Hollow Crown’s other adaptations of Shakespeare’s Henriad plays. With the inclusion of a chorus/narrator (John Hurt), the story takes on a more fable-like bent. Henry V is the sole focus for much of the episode and his goal is simple: take over the French. He is an idealized hero as his inspiring and eloquent words are fully matched by his skill on the battlefield and in the political court. His passion also extends to his ability to woo the lovely Katherine, even with a language barrier between them.
However, although Hiddleston was adequate as Prince Hal in earlier instalments and he can be seen to bring his all to the role of the matured Henry V, he lacks the full force and physicality of the warrior king. The dual nature of Henry V, namely his fiery intelligent side and his physically powerful one, is not served well by the high-browed, gentle-featured actor. When being commanding, resolute, or suddenly cruel, Hiddleston cannot quite sell the scene.
An unenergetic pace, uninteresting secondary characters, and an uncomplicated plot also weaken Henry V. The nearly two-and-a-half hours stretches interminably, with a slow start among the tavern characters that were once drinking mates of Prince Hal and Falstaff in Henry IV. Falstaff also dies off-screen, giving unsatisfactory closure to Henry V’s unruly past. The English trudge across French soil for a long time as the king expects to add France to his kingdom with his stirring words and courageous actions, which with a modern view of sovereignty and a long-term understanding of history seems kind of outrageous that he does achieve his goal with such a small army but especially manages to be deluded into thinking it will last forever. Alas, such is the myth-making history of young kings throughout literature.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 exchanged gloves