60 Second Movie Review – Henry V (1944)
February 24, 2012 4 Comments
Laurence Olivier’s rendition of the William Shakespeare history was produced near the end of World War II in order to boost English morale, to remind them of their historic ties with France, and to give a hip-hip-hooray to war.
It’s remembered for that dash of propaganda, and for how it starts as a reproduction of a play performed at the Globe Theater…
…before transitioning out-of-doors to a fancier film production.
I’d actually forgotten that it’s in color. Perhaps I saw it before it was restored. The lighting does get quite dark during the night before the big battle, as Henry V wanders his camp and talks with the soldiers while cloaked in disguise. Then, it gets bright and beautiful — full Technicolor for the glorious battle! (I was fortunate to catch this on the big screen at the Stanford Theatre in downtown Palo Alto.)
The acting is quite good, as you might expect. It’s a little bit on the precious side, which is understandable for an era that classified Shakespeare as high (not pop) culture, but boy does their theater training show. So does their stage make-up.
The pace is slow and while some of that is presumably due to changing times, it feels as if it were also made for an audience to linger over it. I imagine that life during wartime made one more appreciative of 137 minute movies.
I’d forgotten that the “Once more unto the breech!” speech came early in the film. I’d remembered it as a final rallying cry, but it isn’t. The language is Shakespeare, the voice of English and of England, and because of the aforementioned training it issues forth trippingly on the tongue.
Olivier cuts out some of the history, including the King ordering a friend to be hanged, and a mention of how England later lost control of France. There are some comic moments of slapstick, but any play that (spoiler alert!) contains the death of the great clown Falstaff can’t be a total barrel of laughs. It does end like a comedy, with a marriage, but that’s more of a reminder that this is a history and not a tragedy.
On my petticoat ratings scale, I give it four breeches, which is the equivalent of two doublets. In plain English, if you’re already a fan of Shakespeare and/or Olivier, then this version of Henry V is well worth watching. If not, then I recommend you start with Olivier’s Hamlet, made four years later. It’s a more familiar story, and also more of a psychological drama.