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REVIEW ESSAY Kenneth Branagh's Henry V: The Gilt [Guilt] in the Crown Re-Examined Kenneth S. Rothwell Henry V. "Based on the play Henry V written by William Shakespeare." GB, 1989. Premiered in New York City and Los Angeles, November 8, 1989. Renaissance Films and The Samuel Goldwyn Company. Producers, Stephen Evans and Bruce Sharman; Director, Kenneth Branagh; Photography, Kenneth MacMillan; Composer, Pat Doyle; Music conductor, Simon RatUe; Editor, Mike Bradsell; Costumes, Phyllis Dalton; Artistic Advisor, Hugh Cruttwell; Col., Running time, 138 mins. Distributor: The Samuel Goldwyn Company. Cast: Alice, Geraldine McEwan; Bardolph, Richard Briers; Bates, Shaun Prendergast; Bedford, James Larkin; Boy, Christian Bale; Cambridge , Fabian Cartwright; Canterbury, Charles Kay; Child, Calum Yuill; Chorus, Derek Jacobi; Constable, Richard Easton; Court, Pat Doyle; Dauphin, Michael Maloney; Ely, Alec McCowen; Erpingham, Edward Jewesbury; Exeter, Brian Blessed; Falstaff, Robbie Coltrane; Fluellen, Ian Holm; French King, Paul Scofield; Gloucester, Simon Shepherd; Gower, Daniel Webb; Grandpre, Colin Hurley; Grey, Jay Vflliers; Henry V, Kenneth Branagh; Jamy, jimmy Yuill; Katherine, Emma Thompson; MacMorris, John Sessions; Messenger, David Parfitt; Mistress Quickly, Judi Dench; Pistol, Robert Stephens; Scroop, Stephen Simms; Soldier, Mark Inman; Talbot, Tom Whitehouse; Warwick, Nicholas Ferguson; Westmorland, Paul Gregory; Williams, Michael Williams; York, James Simmons. Kenneth Branagh's Henry V is, and will be recognized as, one of the outstanding Shakespeare movies of the century. Rooted in but not fettered to Adrian Noble's 1984 RSC production, it connects word and image without betraying either literary or cinematic values. The camera does not merely record but probes into the text and subtext for meaning. The establishment, for example, of the heart-rending context for Bardolph's hanging enlarges a few lines into a mini-essay on the duties and responsibilities of the prince. A Branagh close-up lays bare the innermost feelings and motives of Shakespeare's characters. Unlike Olivier's Henry V, which was epic in scale and long in shot, Branagh's film, without diminishment in power, is introspective and keyed to the mid or close shot. But, as Shakespeare's Dogberry said, "Comparisons are odorous" (Much Ado III.v.16). Whatever the undoubted merits of the 1944 Olivier movie that was made under the pressure of wartime ideologies, Branagh's stands on its own, an advocate for the brave new world of the 1990's. This is a film notable for both its literary and cinematic credentials—a virtuosi achievement in the light of the ongoing skirmishes between Cinéastes and Bardolaters over whether or not Shakespeare's plays can be made into movies at all. Its multiple creative touches express even more than 173 174Comparative Drama the essence of the play; they also manage a literal as well as an expressionistic representation. Because the director not only accepts but revels in the idea of Shakespeare on film, he also inevitably inscribes metacinematic elements into the filmic narrative. To be specific, when at the beginning Derek Jacobi as a Brechtian chorus (he intervenes like a deus ex machina at Harfleur) switches on the lights of a movie studio, it is an alienating effect that jars us into awareness of the movie's mechanical basis. Edwin Thanhouser's 1916 King Lear (one of the best of the silent Shakespeare movies) begins not with a motion picture set but with a close shot of a page from Shakespeare 's text; Olivier's film, with the Chorus (Leslie Banks) unforgettably declaiming on the stage of the Globe playhouse; and Branagh's, in a film studio. In steady progression these establishing shots have functioned metonymically to privilege page, then stage, and then screen. What was once concealed in the background as almost disreputable—Shakespeare in the movies—is now brazenly foregrounded. The idea of Shakespeare on screen comes into its own. The camera unabashedly participates, becomes a silent partner, in the creation of a meta-text—but differently from the Olivier version. In Olivier's movie the camera began a sequence such as the Chorus' opening speech or the Agincourt St. Crispin's speech close in, but then pulled back and up so that as the actors' voices grew and flourished in splendor, the bodies diminished. In Branagh's movie the camera begins at midshot...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 173-178
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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