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And is old Double dead? Age of Kings, Part 6.

August 30, 2020

All of Henry IV’s sons have the same pudding basin haircut. All of them. Perhaps Henry IV spent so much money on putting down rebellions that he had no money to spare on family haircuts. Once a month, the pudding basin was produced and all the boys were lined up for a trim.

The most sinister character in this episode (basically “Henry IV Part II, part ii) is John of Lancaster, played by Patrick Garland – a writer, actor and director of some distinction. He directed the very wonderful 1973 film version of A Doll’s House starring Claire Bloom and Anthony Hopkins.

Garland’s John looks just like Hal, only with all the flesh and life and fun sucked out. Falstaff’s long speech denouncing John’s sobriety works particularly well in this context. John destroys the rebellion with a cheap trick, a trick so obvious that nobody can quite believe that it’s been played. He dehumanises the enemies of the state so promptly that he seems less than human himself.

Henry IV Part II is all about death. The title character spends the entire play a-dying. Nobody in Shakespeare spends as long dying as Henry IV. Death comes suddenly for the conspirators and slowly for the king, and all the while we are reminded that death is coming for the rest of us.

Shallow and Silence are Shakespeare’s Vladimir and Estragon. As they sit in their exquisite garden and reminisce, they manage to be hilarious and poignant in truly Beckettsian fashion. I’m not sure, however, about the casting of this Shallow. One nice feature of this series is that just about as soon as someone is announced as dead – the actor who played the dead character crops up in a new role. Just as Glendower’s death is announced, William Squire is our Shallow.

But I feel a bit disappointed that series trooper Geoffrey Bayldon didn’t get Shallow. He gets the important role of Lord Chief Justice instead. Squire is very clearly a youngish actor playing a silly old fool. Bayldon isn’t exactly old in 1960, but you feel that Shallow would have come a bit more intuitively to him. Squire on the other hand is very Clive Dunn in Dad’s Armyish, playing for laughs. In all fairness – the laughs are certainly there. In an oddly Brechtian twist – unprecedented in the series so far – we get to see characters start to take off their costumes and back-slap backstage at the end of this production and the epilogue is delivered by Squire as his pulls his beard off and generally rejuvenates himself.

But even with a slightly off-putting Shallow – these scenes are a delight. They offer a summer’s day, a delicious bubble that cannot withstand the encroach of incipient winter.

And when Robert Hardy’s Hal expels Falstaff – he gets it so right. Everything about Hardy’s Hal is perfectly judged. Some Hals make the emotional effort of spurning Falstaff look too visible and others make the rejection look effortless. Hardy’s Hal is supremely politic and intelligent but you always sense the price that’s being paid for every calculation made.

Henry V is not my fave Shakespeare play but with Robert Hardy front and centre, I’m looking forward to it.

I’ve thoughts about other episodes in this series.

Part V.

Part IV

Part III:

Part II

Part I

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