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Henry V
Directed by Laurence Olivier
Produced by Filippo Del Giudice
Laurence Olivier
Written by Play:
William Shakespeare
Screenplay:
Dallas Bower
Alan Dent
Laurence Olivier
Starring Laurence Olivier
Renée Asherson
Robert Newton
Leslie Banks
Music by William Walton
Cinematography Jack Hildyard
Robert Krasker
Editing by Reginald Beck
Distributed by Eagle-Lion Distributors Limited
Release date(s) United Kingdom 12 July 1944
United States 17 June 1946
Running time 137 min.
Country  United Kingdom
Language English
Budget £475,000

Henry V is a 1944 film adaptation of William Shakespeare's play of the same name. The on-screen title is The Chronicle History of King Henry the Fift with His Battell Fought at Agincourt in France (the title of the 1600 quarto edition of the play). It stars Laurence Olivier, who also directed. The play was adapted for the screen by Olivier, Dallas Bower, and Alan Dent. The score is by William Walton.

The film begins as a recreation of a stage production of the play in the Globe Theatre, then gradually turns into a stylized cinematic rendition of the play, with sets reminiscent of a medieval Book of Hours. It follows the overall pattern of Shakespeare's play, depicting Henry's campaign in France, through the siege of Harfleur and eventually to Agincourt. The film then shows the Battle of Agincourt in a real setting, after which the film quickly begins to revert to backdrops that conversely now become more and more artificial. It ends with Henry's courtship of Princess Katherine. At the end of the scene, the setting reverts to the Globe Playhouse and the audience applauding.

The film was made near the end of World War II and was intended as a morale booster for Britain. Consequently, the film was partly funded by the British government. The movie won Olivier an Academy Honorary Award for "his Outstanding achievement as actor, producer and director in bringing Henry V to the screen."

Contents

Production

The original setting was inaccessible, as it was located in German-occupied France at the time, so the film was shot in Enniskerry, Co.Wicklow, Ireland.

Photographed in three-strip Technicolor, the picture was hailed by critics for its ebulliently colorful sets and costumes, as well as for Olivier's masterful direction and acting. Pauline Kael called the movie "a triumph of color, music, spectacle and soaring heroic poetry" [1]. James Agee reported, in Time magazine's April 8, 1946 issue, that a remarkable 75 percent of the color footage shot was used in the final release. Even by British standards, this was an exceptionally high figure. For a first-time director it was unheard of.

Olivier agreed not to appear in a film for 18 months to encourage this one to attract as large an audience as possible. In return, he was paid £15,000, tax-free (about £460,000 in today's money)[2].

In 2007, the film was digitally restored to High Definition format and re-released[3].

Plot

The original version of the film begins with a “dedication to the commandos and airborne troops of Great Britain” (Sargeant 155). We then travel to the Globe Theatre in 1600. The Chorus (Leslie Banks) enters and implores the audience to use their imagination to visualize the setting of the play. We then see, up on a balcony, two clergymen, The Archbishop of Canterbury (Felix Aylmer), and the Bishop of Ely (Robert Helpmann) discussing the current affairs of state. Henry (Laurence Olivier) then enters, and discusses with his nobles the state of France. A gift is delivered to Henry from the French Dauphin. The gift turns out to be tennis balls. Offended, Henry sends the French ambassador away, and prepares to claim the French throne, a throne that he believes is rightfully his.

We then see characters from Shakespeare's Henry IV plays: Nym (Frederick Cooper), Bardolph (Roy Emerton), and Pistol (Robert Newton). These characters resolve to join Henry's army, however, before they do, Falstaff (George Robey), another returning character, and one of the King's former mentors, dies. At this point, the film gradually ceases to be located in the Globe Theatre; instead the scenes are performed in stylized film sets reminiscent of a medieval Book of Hours.

At Southampton, the fleet debarks, and lands in France, beginning a campaign that tears through France to Harfleur, where Henry's forces lay siege. At the siege, Henry delivers his first rousing speech to his troops: "Once more... unto the breach! Dear friends, once more!" The troops charge on Harfleur, and take it as their own.

The troops then march to Agincourt, meeting the French forces. Before the impending battle, Henry wanders around the camp in disguise, to find out what the men think of him. The next day, before the battle, Henry delivers his famous Saint Crispin's Day speech.

The Battle of Agincourt then commences. This sequence is filmed on location in a realist style, unlike the stylized sets seen previously; however, the Technicolor is still very bright and somewhat larger than life, unlike the same scene in the later Kenneth Branagh version. The English archers let forth a volley of arrows that cuts deeply into the French numbers. The French, weighed down by their heavy armour, are caught in the fresh mud of the field, and are bogged down, which gives the English troops ample opportunity to ride out and fight them on equal terms. The French Dauphin (Max Adrian), seeing this disadvantage, rides out with several bodyguards and noblemen, and kills all the boys and squires in the English camp. Henry is angered by this and rides out to meet the French Constable (Leo Genn). Fighting each other, one-on-one, swords in hand, the Constable strikes Henry in the head, shaking him. Henry turns and continues to fight the Constable, who sheaths his sword in favour of a mace. The Constable then strikes Henry's hand, causing him to drop his sword. Henry, now disarmed, lashes out and strikes the Constable in the face with his gauntlet, presumably killing him.

The battle is won. Henry then proceeds to court the Princess Katherine (Renee Asherson); the film now returns to the stylized sets. Henry woos Katherine, and France is now under the control of England, as the French King, Charles VI adopts Henry as his successor. In the final moments of the play, we return to the Globe Theatre again, and the actors take their bows.

Wartime context

Winston Churchill instructed Olivier to fashion the film as morale-boosting propaganda for British troops fighting World War II. The making and release of the film coincided with the Allied invasion of Normandy and push into France. The opening sequence dedicates the movie to Britain's forces, the "spirit of whose ancestors" the caption says the film attempts to capture.

Olivier intentionally left out some of Henry's harsher traits as Shakespeare wrote them - such as his threat to unleash his troops to rape and pillage Harfleur and his remorseless hanging of three traitors, as well as of one of his good friends, Bardolph. The melancholy reference at the end of the play to how England under Henry VI eventually "lost France" is also omitted.

Esmond Knight, who plays the patriotic Welsh soldier Fluellen was a wounded veteran of the war. He had been badly injured in 1941 while on active service on board HMS Prince of Wales when she was attacked by the Bismarck, and remained totally blind for two years. He had only just regained some sight in his right eye.

Cast

Listed in order of appearance.

  • Leslie Banks as the Chorus. The Chorus sets the scene for the play and film, giving the required exposition. Leslie Banks was an actor who had appeared with Olivier in Fire Over England.
  • Felix Aylmer as the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Archbishop helps tempt the King into his conquest of France. Olivier stages this scene partly as comedy, with the actor who plays the Archbishop in the Globe Theatre comically jumbling all his papers and losing his place in the script. Aylmer had appeared with Olivier in As You Like It, and would subsequently appear in Hamlet.
  • Robert Helpmann as the Bishop of Ely. The Bishop helps the Archbishop in his persuasion of the King. In the film, he appears as a comic figure. Robert Helpmann was better-known as a ballet dancer and choreographer.
  • Vernon Greeves as The English Herald.
  • Nicholas Hannen as the Duke of Exeter. The Duke is the uncle to the king.
  • Laurence Olivier as King Henry V of England. Henry is the King of England, who is insulted by the French and compelled to invade them. He is a warrior king, who commands his troops from the front. This was Laurence Olivier's third Oscar-nominated performance, and his second appearance in a Shakespeare film.
  • Roy Emerton as Lieutenant Bardolph.
  • George Cole as the Boy. George Cole is a actor who gained popularity much later on as Arthur Daley in the TV series Minder. He also played the young Scrooge in the 1951 film Scrooge.
  • Francis Lister as the Duke of Orleans. Orleans is a nobleman who fights at Agincourt.
  • Max Adrian as The Dauphin. The Dauphin is the cocky joint-commander of the forces at Agincourt. Adrian was a celebrated actor who appeared in several films and on television.
  • Jonathan Field as The French Messenger.
  • Michael Shelpy as Gower, Captain in the English Army.
  • John Laurie as Jamy, Scottish Captain in the English Army. Laurie appeared in all three of Olivier's Shakespeare films, and went on to fame in the TV sitcom, Dad's Army.
  • Niall MacGinnis as MacMorris, Irish Captain in the English Army. MacGinnis was an Irish actor who had many screen appearances.
  • Frank Tickle as The Governor of Harfleur.
  • Brian Nissen as Court, Soldier in the English Army. Nissen was an actor who made many screen and stage appearances and was later an announcer for Southern Television.
  • Jimmy Hanley as Williams, Soldier in the English Army. Hanley was an actor who made several screen appearances.
  • Ernest Hare as A Priest. The priest weds Henry and Katherine.

Reception

Academy Awards

Award[4] Person
Special Award for his Outstanding achievement as actor, producer and director in bringing Henry V to the screen. Laurence Olivier
Nominated:
Best Actor Laurence Olivier
Best Score William Walton
Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Color Paul Sheriff
Carmen Dillon
Best Picture Laurence Olivier

Re-Release and trivia

As part of the BBC Summer of British Film series in 2007, Olivier's Henry V was shown at selected cinemas across the UK.

Both Laurence Olivier and the actual Henry V are buried in Westminster Abbey.

See also

References

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Notes

Bibliography

  • The Great British Films, Jerry Vermilye, 1978, Citadel Press, ISBN 080650661X

Sargeant, Amy. British Cinema: a Critical History. London: BFI Publishing, 2005.

External links


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