There are many film adaptations of Shakespeare that I enjoy, but my favorite would have to be The Hollow Crown, a BBC production of Shakespeare’s second tetralogy of history plays. The story begins with the reign and downfall of Richard II (grandson of Edward III) and concludes with the reign of Henry V as he attempts to conquer France. The series features an all-star cast and is a must see for fans of Shakespeare’s history plays.
Richard II stars Ben Whishaw (the new Q in the James Bond films) as the titular king in the last few years of his reign. Richard, in my opinion, believes that he is a good king, but his actions are so ruled by his whims that it eventually drives the kingdom into rebellion against him. This rebellion is led by his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke (Rory Kinnear), the future Henry IV, who is incensed that, after his father John of Gaunt (Patrick Stewart) died, King Richard ransacked his estate to pay for a war in Ireland. Henry returns from exile ostensibly to claim his birthright as Duke of Lancaster, but it quickly turns into an outright war for the throne of England itself. Stewart’s role as John of Gaunt (a younger son of Edward III) is well-played but ends rather quickly. It’s a shame, because it’s a pleasure to see Patrick Stewart performing Shakespeare.
The contrast between Whishaw’s Richard and Kinnear’s Henry could not be more striking. Richard is presented as preening, elegant, almost effeminate. For most of the play he wears immaculate white robes, and on the one occasion that he does wear armor, it’s gold-plated (not exactly practical for fighting). Henry, by contrast, is burly and muscular, not afraid to get dirty if the job requires it. It is emphasized that Henry does not want to hurt Richard (who is his cousin after all), but is only doing what he believes is best for the kingdom. In the course of a monologue, Richard finally concedes the crown to his cousin and Henry is crowned Henry IV of England.
There are several liberties taken with the depiction of certain characters, most notably with Richard’s queen. Presented here as a grown woman, in truth she was only 10 years old at the time of Richard’s death (they got married when she was 7). There is also an appearance by David Bradley (Walder Frey in Game of Thrones) in the small role of a gardener.
In conclusion, Richard II is a good start to The Hollow Crown, one that I highly recommend. If you’ve seen Richard II, what did you think about it? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and have a great day 🙂
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