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Good Duke. Bad Duchess. Age of Kings, Episode 10 Reviewed.

September 25, 2020
Henry VI of England - Wikipedia

At this point we’re into some of the least popular stretches of Shakespeare… the middle bits of Henry VI, after Joan Pucelle has been dispatched but before the Jack Cade rebellion.

There is no clear focus in this episode. It sort of wants to make itself the Tragedy of Good Duke Humphrey of Gloucester, but Good Duke Humphrey really doesn’t have enough lines to warrant it. John Ringham plays “conscientious decency” well enough but the play isn’t really structured so as to foreground him in a way that this episode appears to want.

Nancy Jackson has a more rewarding role as the Duchess. In many ways The Duchess of Gloucester is a prototype for Lady Macbeth, a Lady Macbeth who has enough ambition to seek demonic help to seize the crown but is unable to persuade her husband to join in.

This adaptation certainly goes to town with the witchcraft scene. Mad shrieking, Welsh accents, and unmentionable sludge are all thrown at us. It’s all a set up, of course, designed to topple the Duke by way of the Duchess – and the evil Archbishop of Winchester is behind it all.

There is some pathos attached to the final farewell. The Duchess is completing her Game of Thrones style walk of shame (only wearing an ugly smock with scraps of accusatory paper stuck to it) while The Duke meets her to say farewell. She’s to be sent to the Isle of Man and never seen by anyone again.

It is instructive to see all these people – Margaret, Suffolk, Somerset, York, Warwick etc. etc. who will all soon be at one another’s throats – all come together with the purpose of getting rid of the only decent character at course. Gloucester might hope, of course, to be shielded by the King, who believes firmly in his innocence – but that’s a polystyrene shield at best.

The rude mechanicals are all graduates of the Michael Green school of acting. They all twitch, gibber, and affect some physical disorder. Few of them can stand upright properly. Everyone below the rank of baronet is suitably equipped with a bizarre accent, and seems determined to “make their mark” by any cheap and obvious means necessary.

IF there’s a character that holds the War of the Roses Tetralogy together, it is Margaret of Anjou. She is growing in confidence here – but it really isn’t until civil war breaks out that she really comes into her own. As played by Mary Morris, she conveys cool calm command better than anyone else on the screen. How exactly Margaret and Anjou managed to produce a son and heir (which they did), beggars belief as Terry Scully’s Henry VI seems the complete quintessence of pious detumescence. Unsurprisingly, there were many current rumours that Edward of Westminster (killed at Tewkesbury at the age of 17) was the son of a more potent magnate than Henry.

Nest episode is “The Rabble of Mechanicals”. The rude mechanicals will be ruder than ever before. Kent. Proverbially troublesome part of the world.

I have some thoughts about other episodes in this series.

Episode One

Episode Two

Episode Three

Episode Four

Episode Five

Episode Six

Episode Seven

Episode Eight

Episode Nine

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