In the inspired Olivier concept, Shakespeare's play begins as a performance in the Globe Theatre, shifting in broad cinematic terms to an epic narrative of Henry V, who had developed from a dissolute youth to a purposeful monarch. Proving his ability as a soldier and skillful leader, he unites the dissident factions in the English army and goes on to crush the French, against enormous odds, at Agincourt. Arranging a treaty with the French court, he woos Princess Katharine to whom he is formally betrothed as part of the peace agreement. Written by
The most significant cuts to the text - the ones which generally provoke criticism at Henry as a king - were reputedly made at Winston Churchill's request. See more »
O! for a Muse of fire, that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention; a kingdom for a stage, princes to act and monarchs to behold the swelling scene. Then should the war-like Harry, like himself, assume the port of Mars; and at his heels, leashed in like hounds, would famine, word, and fire crouch for employment. But pardon, gentles all, the flat unraised spirits that hath dared on this unworthy scaffold to bring forth so great an object: can this cockpit hold the vasty ...
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The advertising poster for the film's first U.S. run (in 1946) billed it as "A Two City Film" when it should have read "A Two Cities Film", as it does in the film's actual opening credits. See more »
Now that we have a fairly long history of quality Shakespeare in the movies, I believe it's fair to compare this film to others, as many have already done. But I'll skip comparisons to the young Kenneth Branagh. What I would like to emphasize is the social importance here, both originally and with this 1944 production.
This play was written to celebrate a great English hero, and to stir up patriotism for a profit. (Shakespeare was a successful businessman.) The movie was made for the same reasons, and its value is in how well it accomplishes them.
It's very valuable.
The film was conceived and made in some dark times for England, and the production occasionally had to stop because of enemy bombers overhead. It could have been thrown off a lot more cheaply and had the same commercial return, but instead Lord Olivier presented a stylish, inspiring, entertaining epic of heroism. I really, really enjoyed the play-within-a-play motif: it was wonderfully fun to see the Globe and the playgoers of the day. I found the acting to be fully satisfying, all the way from a hilarious Robert Newton (he was never this funny anywhere else) as Pistol to Leslie Banks nearly stealing the show as (only) the Chorus. Bravura performances all around--at least from the males, since I have to fast-forward the love scene with Kate.
I also appreciated the action scenes, the color and spectacle--and let's face it, the way Lord Olivier could rip off the St Crispian's speech! So, what we have is a wonderful slice of history, expertly presented. Really good Shakespeare.
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