Henry V - the film (Top)

Branagh’s 1989 version

Branagh's version clearly has a post-Vietnam mood about it, in contrast to the best-known previous filming, Lawrence Olivier's 1944 production done in the thick of World War II. In Olivier's version, war is glorious, not brutal; the British are fighting the degenerate, foppish French. The Olivier's clash of British and French troops takes place under blue skies and on green grass, in contrast with the muddy fields of Branagh's film.

Notice that the movie begins by calling attention to the fact that this is a movie of a play. Derek Jacobi, playing the role of the Chorus, begins speaking in the dark, lights a match, and reveals that he is inside a movie studio. He throws open the studio doors as he says the line: "...kindly to judge our play." Inside the movie studio doors is the play.

[Discussion Topic 1: How does Branagh play the part of Henry?—H5Film1] To what extent is his Henry Machiavellian? Or does Branagh play the part more sincerely? When the Bishops are presenting their double talk justification for the English right to France, how does Branagh/Henry act? While war is portrayed as hell, is Branagh's interpretation of Henry's character one of great leader?

Key scenes in the fourth act of the play are the end of the battle of Agincourt. Think about the way Branagh has filmed this scene. Notice that Branagh leaves out a line: "Then every soldier kill his prisoners" (4.6.37). Shakespeare's play actually specifies the hymn to be sung (4.8.117) — "Non Nobis" — and Shakespeare indeed got this direction from history, which said that this was the actual hymn sung then. Branagh takes this mention and offers the stirring and chilling rendition, sung first by a lone voice, as Branagh/Henry carries the body of the dead boy. Watch people's reactions and what is happening around him as Branagh walks through the battlefield. [Discussion Topic 2: Reflect in your discussion entry on these scenes (4. 6-8): what is their purpose? What do they say about the war, the British, and Henry?—H5Film2]

Click to hear Branagh performing the St. Crispin's Day exhortation.


  •   Resources (Top)

    On the Internet

    Mr. William Shakespeare & the Internet is the most helpful and user-friendly internet web site for students of Shakespeare.

    The Internet Shakespeare site provides excellent background on Henry V.

    Recommended Reading:

    Barton, Ann. "The King Disguised: Shakespeare's Henry V and the Comical History." William Shakespeare: Histories and Poems. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1986.

    Hedrick, Donald K. "War is Mud: Branagh's Dirty Harry V and the Types of Political Ambiguity." Shakespeare the Movie. Ed. Lynda E. Boose and Richard Burt. London: Routledge, 1997.

    Ko, Yu Jin. "A Little Touch of Harry in the Light: Henry V at the New Globe." Shakespeare and the Globe. Shakespeare Survey 52. Ed. Ed. Stanley Wells. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999

    Manheim, Michael. "The English History Play on Screen." Shakespeare and the Moving Image. Ed. Anthony Davies and Stanley Wells. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

    Marx, Steven. "Holy War in Henry V." Shakespeare and Cultural Exchange. Shakespeare Survey 48. Ed. Stanley Wells. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

    Maus, Katharine Eisaman. "Introduction to Henry V." The Norton Shakespeare. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt et al. New York: Norton, 1997.

    Rothwell. Kenneth S. A History of Shakespeare on Screen: a century of film and television. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Click to hear Henry wooing Kate: Cans't thou love me, Kate