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Sunday 8 July 2012

The Hollow Crown: Henry IV, Part 1.

Previously: The Hollow Crown: Richard II.

I was a little more prepared this time round because unlike with Richard II, I'd actually seen this play before. And, perhaps, Prince Hal's story is easier to follow than Richard's because he's a less ambiguous protagonist -- a character you can root for. Richard's flamboyant incompetence was entertaining to watch, but was distinctly unheroic. For all that Richard II was aesthetically pleasing, it didn't have the same gleeful excitement of Henry IV, with its clear-set coming-of-age journey for Prince Hal and its cast of crowd-pleasing comedy sidekicks. Falstaff's constant supply of old-fat-coward jokes may have been designed for an audience of 16th-century drunks, but I'm easily pleased and found him hilarious. (Possibly because I have the spirit of a 16th-century drunk.)
Tom Hiddleson as Prince Hal was, put simply, totally awesome. I'd been looking forward to this play in particular both because I love Henry IV/Henry V story, and because Tom Hiddleston was clearly such brilliant casting. And having seen it? I'm now coming to understand why Tumblr is basically a giant online shrine to Tom Hiddleston. Within about fifteen seconds of him coming onscreen I had little hearts in my eyes like an anime character, like, what was even happening. Hiddleston's Prince Hal is so charming and handsome that I'm now desperate to see him play a genuinely unappealing character. Because, you know, the only other thing I've really seen him in is his role as Loki in Thor and The Avengers, who despite being a villain is still pretty lovable. I found myself comparing the two, and the one thing that stands out between them is Hiddleston's ability to play royalty. The level of automatic, commanding entitlement both Loki and Hal display is wonderful, although they show it in very different ways.
It didn't take me long to realise: The Female Gaze is strong with this one. Seriously, the camera loves Prince Hal. And, you know, virile young men in general, most of them dressed in tight leather jerkins unlaced at the throat. In Richard II there were a lot of luxurious panning shots of Richard's gold-plated everything, but it wasn't really... affectionate? Richard was an intrinsically weak character, protected by his royal blood and riches as he teetered on the brink of being deposed by stronger men. Prince Hal, on the other hand, has the potential to be a strong and charismatic leader but hasn't yet been given the chance to fulfil that potential. I feel like the director of Richard II was taking a rather unlikeable character and trying to make him as entertaining and sympathetic as possible while still highlighting and mocking his flaws, whereas with Henry IV we had a protagonist who was already really appealing, being played as sexy and fun as possible by an actor who is apparently able to conjure charisma out of nowhere.
Here we come to one of those moments when it becomes abundantly clear why I'm not a "real" reviewer, because this whole next part is going to be about how Tom Hiddleston is super dreamy. (Oh, if only this were an exaggeration.) First of all, that thing I was saying about the Female Gaze? Look no further than the costuming. This quote refers to Henry V rather than Henry IV, but I think it's still relevent:
"...while I wanted it to be set in the period, I wanted it to have some kind of modern feel. Things like Tom’s jackets. And I didn’t want him to have a bowl haircut, I wanted him to have a look that wasn’t just accessible, but attractive. He was in “Avengers Assemble”, for goodness sake! He’s an amazing, beautiful-looking man." -- Thea Sharrock, director of Henry V.
The costume designer for Henry IV Part 1 must have taken a very long look at Tom Hiddleston and thought, "What looks good on this guy?" He's tall, he's slim, his performance is very energetic and physical, and they put him in a form-fitting leather jerkin and trousers, with the jacket open at the neck at all times. The result? Large portions of the film are scenes where the camera lovingly caresses Poins and Hal's exposed collarbones as they share drunk LOLs about their latest prank on Falstaff. I think Shakespeare would approve.
Another reason why Hiddleston was perfect casting: his age. I assume that in the original setting Prince Hal was intended to be significantly younger, but at 31 Tom Hiddleston is ideal for our modern perception of an over-priveleged man-child. He looks boyish, but he definitely isn't a boy. This Hal isn't so much forced into adulthood by Hotspur's threats of war as he is waiting for something to force him into adulthood from the very first scenes of the play. From the start there's a certain feeling of melancholy, as if Hal already knows that he's coming to the end of his time as a wastrel in the streets of Eastcheap. It's practically a coming-of-age teen/college movie cliche. It's easy to interpret Hal's pranks with Poins and Falstaff as immature and thoughtless, but in this adaptation it was almost as if Hal was being set up as a future king from step one: charismatic, able to command the respect and affection of his followers, and with an actual brain in his head (even if he's only using it to fool his father's messengers and play tricks on his friends). Compared to the aging, angry King Henry, it's surprisingly easy to see Hal as future leader of men. This is, I suppose, the luxury of television: they can cast the same actor for Prince Hal and Henry V, and show all three plays in quick succession, which onstage would be more or less impossible.
I can't wait to see Jeremy Irons in the next play. Towards the end of Part 1 he looked like he was on death's door, grey-faced to match the morbid darkness of his clothes and castle. It was very easy to imagine this Henry as the aging, frustrated continuation of the Henry Bolingbroke we see in Richard II, his gloomy court a direct reaction to the frivolous extravagance of Richard's reign. This play may have been set before the reformation, but King Henry was practically a protestant before his time -- surrounded by rigidly black-mantled courtiers in a huge, empty grey stone throne room with no lit candles, and swaddled up to the chin in thick black furs and scarves. I particularly loved this aspect of Henry's costuming: imposing but not exactly kingly, what with the ratty grey scarves and knit cap.
HAT FACTS: according to Jeremy Irons, bobble hats were invented for soldiers to wear under their helmets, with the bobble acting as a cushion in the top point of the helmet. I really hope this is true, partly because it's interesting and partly because I want Jeremy Irons to be a secret knitwear expert.
One of the reasons why Henry IV Part 1 is my favourite is the plethora of drunk rap-battles. I mean, if you don't appreciate Falstaff and Prince Hal exchanging insults in front of a baying audience of drunks and bar-wenches, I don't even know what to do with you. And, of course, there's Prince Hal's impression of his father. Tom Hiddleston is known for doing excellent impersionations of his co-stars, and his Jeremy Irons was brilliant. Pictures barely do it justice. He even added a scarf and hat. Even moreso than the scene where King Henry gives Hal the "stop being a wastrel" speech, Hiddleston's Jeremy Irons impression convinced me that he really was the King's firstborn son. 
Was it just me or were some of Hotspur's scenes cut from this adaptation? I'm not particularly familiar with the play, but I'm pretty sure that when I saw it onstage Hotspur had far more scenes, particularly with his wife. Either way, Hotspur and his wife were H I L A R I O U S. They were 100% that annoying couple who are always macking on each other and/or having loud, public arguments all the time with no consideration for the people around them. Michelle Dockery (as Hotspur's wife) didn't get much screentime but boy did she make the most of it. One of the things I love about this play is the quantity of opportunities for humour outside of the typical Shakespearean comic fixtures, and the Hotspur/Kate relationship is totally one of those opportunities. In the Welsh Wife scene, which in earlier times might have been a chance for some straight-up "LOL, Wales" jokes, this time round we get Kate making hilarious bitchfaces at Hotspur, a mixture between, "Why aren't you like this, huh?" and "What the hell is up with these two lovebirds, anyway?" And of course, they then proceed to make out in front of everyone as all the other characters politely look at the walls and wait for them to go away. PERFECTION.

I don't feel like the movie suffered from the seeming absense of Hotspur, though, because this adaptation seemed to focus so closely on Prince Hal's own journey rather than the Hotspur/Henry conflict. If anything, until we reached the final battle Hotspur seemed more like a secondary character than a major antagonist. That battle is also the moment when we finally see Prince Hal begin to harden into something more like his father. Before that he's very emotional -- either joking around with his mates at the tavern, or emoting tragically at the camera because oh boy is Tom Hiddleston good at that. But when we reach the battle with Hotspur and the Northerners, Hal seems to age ten years, finally taking up the burden of kingship. 
Regular readers may know that I enjoy armour. There's a tag for it and everything. The armour worn for the Battle of Shrewsbury appealed to me for two reasons: its basic utilitarianism and its relationship, character-wise, with the costumes of last week's Richard II. Although this play takes place a generation after Richard II, in many ways it seems like it's set in an earlier period of history. Richard's court was a place of luxury and beauty, and even his armour was a complex work of art, glistening gold from head to toe. His enemy Henry Bolingbroke, however, was the precise opposite:
Maybe I'm just looking too closely at this because I'm an armour fanatic and have a Game Of Thrones tattoo on my face and am secretly married to Loki on the astral plane, but I can totes see the evolution of the Richard-Henry-Hal reigns in the way they dress for battle. First of all, the young Henry Bolingbroke barely does dress for battle. He's always ready. And taking into account the fact that Richard II and Henry IV had different costume designers and very different aesthetics, there's surprisingly little difference between the appearance of the young Henry Bolingbroke and the Henry we see in Henry IV Part 1. The Northern practicality and toughness of Henry Bolingbroke (which in Richard II seemed like such a stark contrast with Richard's sparklicious, un-dented armour) has aged into a kind of chilly, monochromatic austerity, which in the battlefield translates to the King sitting stiff-spined on horseback in his grey woollen hat, trying not to show any evidence of his unspecified terminal illness. At the end of Richard II it was almost as if Henry Bolingbroke didn't want to be king, and in this play it certainly doesn't appears to be enjoying it. While Hal, it seems, is a golden prince who was born to rule.
Prince Hal seems distant from both Richard and his father: neither frivolous nor grim. He's young and fun-loving, but he's still a capable warrior for all that he breaks away from his father's sternness. His armour is flexible and lightweight and, I think, considerably more period-appropriate than the intricate costume armour worn by Richard in the previous installment. Call me weird, but I really appreciated the simplicity of Hal's armour, and that it didn't particularly set him apart from any of the other knights -- although, of course, the commoners only got chainmail or leather. I'll be interested to see how that continues in later films, because Thea Sharrock, the director of Henry V, mentioned specifically that she and Hiddleston had tried to make their version of Henry V as much of a man of the people as possible.
Oh, Falstaff. Finally we come to you. Falstaff's a tricky one because he's just. So. Preposterous. The humour of Falstaff is so bound by old-fashioned slapstick that the filmmakers must have decided to put extra emphasis on the tragic side of his character this time round, giving him a hint of Sam Gamgee loyalty as he half-seriously begs Hal not to abandon him at the end of the rap-battle scene, complete with an emotive soundtrack. I expect some people would find this maudlin, but I was OK with it, particularly since the next film should build on that. We already got some closure to the Falstaff/Hal relationship at the end of this film, though, as Prince Hal, fresh from battle and finally coming into his own as an adult and a warrior, allows Falstaff one final deception. Also, one final Tom Hiddleston grin, something I doubt we'll be seeing as much of in the next two films.



  2. i think tom hiddleston already did that to you

  3. When Prince Hal & co. were doing pranks on Falstaff, half the time I was expecting him to go LOKI'D. See? Another brainwashed Hiddles fangirl here.

    Also, call me ignorant but I didn't know who Jeremy Irons was meant to be playing at the beginning, because Henry Bolingbroke has gone from Rory Kinnear to Irons, and wow, what an impressive head of hair Henry IV has grown!

  4. I'm still only half-way in since I had to run out to avoid starvation, what will the rest do to me??

    P.S.: Whenever I come visit you we should totally have a drunk rap-battle.

  5. drunk rap battle sounds like the worst idea of all time because you have better alcohol tolerance on your side AND the extra amunition of at least one more language than my measly monolingualism lolololol


  6. So glad they didn't overly concern themselves with historical accuracy. I don't want to see Hiddles with Henry V's bowl cut. The leather jackets are glorious.

  7. I love reading your reviews and costume breakdown.
    Apparently Henry IV and Henry V had the same costume designer. There's an interesting interview with her, here:

    She talks about sewing some of the clothes onto Hiddles.

  8. Hey! I love your blog, mainly because you also have an armour obssession!

    Not to be nitpicky but.. "This is, I suppose, the luxury of television: they can cast the same
    actor for Prince Hal and Henry V, and show all three plays in quick
    succession, which onstage would be more or less impossible." ...while you may need a rather loose interpretation of 'quick succession' Jamie Parker played Hal at the Globe in both parts of Henry IV in 2010 and then did Henry V this year :)

  9. "It was precisely fitted so he could move and look sexy because he's got an amazing physique. It's like working with a finely tuned instrument and you work very hard to get it right."

    Basically the whole crew seems to have had an adorably huge crush on him and it makes me laugh forever.

  10. " I'm now coming to understand why Tumblr is basically a giant online shrine to Tom Hiddleston." I actually laughed aloud at that! Seriously, I love your reviews of costuming in relation to films. Please - more!

  11. Just watched this and loved it!! I had never seen the play before and I didn't know the plot so i did find it hard at times to know what exactly was happening. But I really got into by the end and I so agree Prince Hal is Amaaaaazing!
    The best bit however was seeing Alan a Dale from the bbc robin hood series pop up as Hotspur. I still adore him <3 haha

  12. I do so agree. Thanks for writing this ... I myself have been thinking about that burgundy leather jacket ever since seeing it (and what it contained). LOL. Also agree re: Loki and Game of Thrones. Perhaps we were separated at birth? heh

  13. I really hope this is true, partly because it's interesting and partly
    because I want Jeremy Irons to be a secret knitwear expert.

    Now that you mention this....SO DO I. Heh. Oh, Jeremy. I've loved you since Brideshead. I cannot wait to see these, they sound fantastic. And wow, as if i needed another reason to think Mr. Hiddleston was awesome..... :)

  14. Have you seen The Deep Blue Sea? I kind of think it's his (Hiddleston's) best performance to date, and he's playing a guy who seems very charming in the beginning of the film and then turns out to be... the opposite of that, in every possible way. And he is REALLY FUCKING GOOD at being really, really cruel. The movie's worth watching aside from him, too - Rachel Weisz is AMAZING and I think it was really brilliantly written and directed, on top of having fantastic production values - really good costumes, if I remember correctly. (Plus Simon Russell Beale is the other main actor, which tickled me watching this movie, although I don't think he and Hiddleston share any scenes.)

    Anyway, thanks for this! It was a delight to read, as was your post on Richard II - and all the better for not being Serious and Professional, hah.

  15. "Within about fifteen seconds of him coming onscreen I had little hearts in my eyes like an anime character, like, what was even happening."

    This is what happened to me when I unwittingly saw Thor at the dollar
    theater last year (two years ago?) It was boring boring boring, Whoa. Who is that guys and how is he so astonishingly beautiful and
    why is this movie about Thor when the only true character development
    revolves around Loki?

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  17. Jeremy Irons was right about boble hats. The Monmouth cap is what he meant and they'd been around for about a century before Henry IV's time.

    I love Shakespeare production and your blog is simply wonderful.

    I agree completey about Tom Hiddleston. Who couldn't, he's marvellous, born to be in historical dramas ... and leather clad Asgardian Armour.


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