Tag Archives: William Shakespeare

Henry V (1989, Kenneth Branagh)

Director (and adapter) Branagh splits Henry V into three sections. They aren’t equal, they don’t match the act changes (usually); Branagh lets photographer Kenneth MacMillan open up the film to (outdoor) light while Patrick Doyle’s score becomes essential. The first outside, daylight sequence–Branagh (as Henry) gives his troops a rousing speech–defines the rest of the film. Even when it gets dark and violent in the subsequent, breathtaking battle sequence, there’s still a lot of light. That light carries over into the finale, which is light comedy featuring Branagh bantering with his betrothed-to-be Emma Thompson.

The problem with that finale is it requires Branagh’s Henry to be a likable character in a way Branagh’s never been concerned about. He’s a king, not a bashful suitor. It’s an odd conclusion, with Thompson not speaking English and coming off like a possession to be had. With Branagh’s strange comedic handling, the whole thing is off.

Until Derek Jacobi, as the modern day chorus, guiding the audience through the film, gets in the last word, Henry is almost in trouble. Not a lot, but more than one would expect given how Branagh goes from being expert to sloppy in one scene.

Branagh’s excellent. Brian Blessed, Ian Holm, Michael Maloney, Christopher Ravenscroft, all astounding. Branagh gets these beautiful performances in long, usually close-up takes. And gives a great one of his own with the same treatment.

The battle scene is an amazing intersection of artifice and reality.

Real good stuff.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Kenneth Branagh; screenplay by Branagh, based on the play by William Shakespeare; director of photography, Kenneth MacMillian; edited by Michael Bradsell; music by Patrick Doyle; production designer, Tim Harvey; produced by Bruce Sharman; released by Curzon Film Distributors.

Starring Kenneth Branagh (King Henry V), Brian Blessed (Duke Thomas Beaufort of Exeter), Paul Gregory (Westmoreland), Nicholas Ferguson (Earl Richard Beauchamp of Warwick), James Larkin (Duke John of Bedford), Simon Shepherd (Duke Humphrey of Gloucester), Charles Kay (Archbishop of Canterbury), Alec McCowen (Bishop of Ely), Fabian Cartwright (Earl Richard of Cambridge), Stephen Simms (Lord Henry Scroop), Jay Villiers (Sir Thomas Grey), James Simmons (Duke Edward of York), Christopher Ravenscroft (Montjoy), Paul Scofield (King Charles VI of France), Michael Maloney (Louis the Dauphin), Emma Thompson (Princess Katherine de Valois), Geraldine McEwan (Alice), Harold Innocent (Duke Philippe of Burgundy), Edward Jewesbury (Sir Thomas Erpingham), Danny Webb (Gower), Ian Holm (Captain Fluellen), John Sessions (Macmorris), Jimmy Yuill (Jamy), Judi Dench (Mistress Nell Quickly), Robert Stephens (Auncient Pistol), Richard Briers (Lieutenant Bardolph), Geoffrey Hutchings (Corporal Nym), Christian Bale (Robin the Luggage-Boy), Michael Williams (Williams), Shaun Prendergast (Bates), Patrick Doyle (Court) and Robbie Coltrane (Sir John Falstaff). Derek Jacobi as Chorus.


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O (2001, Tim Blake Nelson)

The actor playing Josh Hartnett’s mother (and Martin Sheen’s wife) doesn’t get a credit in O. She doesn’t have any lines, doesn’t really make any noise, just looks down at the dinner table during a scene. But she’s a perfect example of how Nelson paints subtlety and sadness into the film’s canvas. She’s mentioned once more later, in this very deliberate scene showcasing Sheen’s emotional abuse of Hartnett. O has a lot of teenagers–in a boarding school–acting adult, but this scene with Hartnett and Sheen (Sheen barely has a visual presence and Hartnett has only one line), reveals these “grown-up” teenagers as the children.

While second-billed, Hartnett is the film’s protagonist. The point of Othello, as a character, is how uninteresting he is when compared to Iago. That observation should not discount Mekhi Phifer’s performance as the Othello analog, however. Phifer’s transformation into a jealous lover is all played onscreen in O… Hartnett’s just a psychopath who finally gets to express himself. Othello has to be a tragedy; even when Phifer lashes out, he maintains sympathy. Some of it works because Hartnett’s a great villain, but most is because of Nelson’s careful direction.

Julia Stiles, as Desdemona, doesn’t have the range Hartnett and Phifer do, but she’s quite good. Her death scene’s extraordinary.

Also essential, in a small role, is Rain Phoenix.

Nelson, cinematographer Russell Lee Fine and composer Jeff Danna create an amazing film. Nelson puts the responsibility for its success on Hartnett; Hartnett excels.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Tim Blake Nelson; screenplay by Brad Kaaya, based on a play by William Shakespeare; director of photography, Russell Lee Fine; edited by Kate Sanford; music by Jeff Danna; production designer, Dina Goldman; produced by Daniel Fried, Eric Gitter and Anthony Rhulen; released by Lions Gate Films.

Starring Josh Hartnett (Hugo Goulding), Mekhi Phifer (Odin James), Julia Stiles (Desi Brable), Andrew Keegan (Michael Cassio), Rain Phoenix (Emily), Elden Henson (Roger Calhoun), Martin Sheen (Coach Duke Goulding) and John Heard (Dean Bob Brable).


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Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (1990, Tom Stoppard)

I’d heard of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, of course. I’d probably even meant to see it at one point, probably around the time of Branagh’s Hamlet, which is when I first got big into Shakespeare. But it was only available on VHS and I was already addicted to widescreen. Oddly, this viewing–at the wife’s request–was widescreen. I thought all the DVD releases were pan and scan. So waiting worked out.

More, it worked out because I probably wouldn’t have been able to appreciate the film as much ten years ago as I am able today. The characters trapped in the confines of a narrative, realizing they’re free of agency–well, I’m familiar with it from Breakfast of Champions. But Rosencrantz & Guildenstern goes a little further in discussing the drama as a whole.

It took me a while, I’ll admit, to realize what Stoppard was doing (at the beginning, I just figured they were dead and reliving the experience of Hamlet in some afterlife). Once I did, I appreciated it.

But, honestly, not as much as I appreciated the updating of “Who’s on first?”

Tim Roth and Gary Oldman are both fantastic. It’s stunning to see Oldman in such a well-written role. It’s been a long time since he’s been concerned with acting (kids, swimming pools, et cetera, I imagine).

Stoppard’s direction is excellent. It’s understated and profound.

Richard Dreyfuss is great in a somewhat unexplainable role. Iain Glen and Ian Richardson are good in the Hamlet sections.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Tom Stoppard; screenplay by Stoppard, based on his play and a play by William Shakespeare; director of photography, Peter Biziou; edited by Nicolas Gaster; music by Stanley Myers; production designer, Vaughan Edwards; produced by Michael Brandman and Emanuel Azenberg; released by Cinecom Entertainment Group.

Starring Gary Oldman (Rosencrantz), Tim Roth (Guildenstern), Richard Dreyfuss (The Player), Joanna Roth (Ophelia), Iain Glen (Hamlet), Donald Sumpter (Claudius), Joanna Miles (Gertrude), Ljubo Zecevic (Osric), Ian Richardson (Polonius), Sven Medvesek (Laertes), Vili Matula (Horatio) and John Burgess (Ambassador from England).


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