Skip to content

A Little Touch of Harry in the Night. Age of Kings, Part 8, Reviewed.

September 4, 2020

Some lines just make me snigger. I’m like that I’m afraid. And when poor Chorus describes how “the hum of either army stilly sounds” I always hear “silly sounds”.

Christopher Whelen’s incidental music has never been more productively atmospheric than when Chorus depicts the night before the battle – it’s wonderfully eerie and and disconcerting. I hate “appropriate” music in serious drama. I hate music that merely inflates the dominant emotion in a scene rather than offering some sort of commentary on it. I need my music to feel a bit inappropriate, or at least “talk back” to the words I’m hearing.

Michael Williams (Frank Windsor) has a fine long speech on the heavy consciousness of the king, and delivers it with considerable dignity. It’s a highpoint.

When Robert Hardy gets to do his big “band of brothers” speech, it is striking how well the set is designed and lit so as to complement his shouting. Although, obviously, there’s a limited number of rhubarbing spear carriers that can be accommodated in the studio, you never lose the sense of wider horizons. Hardy’s is a shouty rendition, but it sort of works, because you’re somehow able to imagine the serried ranks beyond the perimeter of the screen. Though completely studio-bound, Hardy acts like he’s outdoors – making this one of the more bracing and outdoorsy versions of the scene I’ve ever seen.

The “boy” who resembled Mark Lester from Oliver! (but wasn’t) who accompanied Falstaff in Henry IV Part II has been replaced by another “boy” who looks thirty if he he’s a day. Perhaps the BBC in 1960 could not countenance the death in battle of a boy who looks like a boy.

Leeks are usually one of my favourite vegetables. I think they’re quite delicious. There is something very disturbing about the scene where Fluellen force-feeds Pistol that leek though, that makes me never want to eat a leek again, or at least until I’ve forgotten about the grisly details of the scene. It also makes me never want to insult a Welshman, which is, I suppose, the more important point. Pistol, played here by George A. Cooper, is perhaps the least appealing of all the Falstaff crew – a loudmouthed bully and a shouty nuisance. Yet he is the last man (or woman) standing. His farewell speech in the self-aware miles gloriosus tradition anticipates the “simply the thing I am shall make me live” soliloquy from All’s Well that Ends Well, but Paroles is a far more attractive character than Pistol.

The courtship scene between Harry and Katherine is always funny if it’s done right. With Robert Hardy and Judi Dench, the scene can hardly be done badly, so it’s very funny indeed. If I’m certain of one respect in which the historical Henry V differed from Shakespeare’s it’s that the historical Henry V must have spoken better French. Shakespeare rightly calculates that there’s much to be gained in entertainment value by having Henry reduced to scraping a bare pass GCSE level French when attempting to make love. Problems of translation help focus the mind on what’s actually important while creating issues of delicacy and indelicacy that are worthy of anything by Laurence Sterne. Now oddly enough, Henry is never more like Hotspur than in this scene, and like Hotspur, he very poetically and eloquently denounces poetry and eloquence. Mind you, Robert Hardy never looks at Judi Dench with the sort of passionate desire with which he looked at Sean Connery’s Hotspur – shortly before killing him.

The distinguished Edgar Wreford delivers perhaps my favourite speech in this play as the Duke of Burgundy. It’s a long, poetic reflection on just how lovely France it is and how horrible it is that it’s been trampled on by rival armies. The play sort of stops here for a moment – all action and conflict is suspended – just so that everyone can enjoy it.

Thus ends Henry V. If this BBC production cuts out some of the more cynical elements of the play (e.g. episcopal plotting and naked infants on pikes), it does at least preserve the epilogue which is often cut in jingoistic productions. The epilogue reminds us that all this conquest was for nothing and that within a few decades all (and more) that Henry V won was lost while England took its turn as blood-drenched battleground. Of course, there would have been no point in cutting this Epilogue, since we’re about to see all this happen anyway. The original Chorus was, of course, reminding the audience of plays that have already been staged rather than preparing us for plays we are about to see.

Behind the Chorus is Henry’s coffin, surrounded by disconsolate pike-men. Nice touch.

I’ve thoughts about other episodes of “Age of Kings” (1960).

Age of Kings, Part VII

Part VI

Part V.

Part IV

Part III:

Part II

Part I

From → Uncategorized

One Comment
  1. Reblogged this on conradbrunstrom and commented:

    Reposting on the anniversary of Agincourt…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: