Olivier's Henry V

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Olivier's Henry V

Post by *mythos* »

A few days ago, Kenneth Branagh's version of Henry V was aired on TV. Whilst accepting that he and his ilk always feel the need for a different interpretation of a classic Shakespeare piece, I was left heartily disappointed by the usual dumbing down for the modern audience. For instance, one is amazed to see that virtually all the nobility in the English army embarked on the battlefield, according to Branagh, with no helm for protection. It appeared to be necessary to have a gentleman in modern clothes and a raincoat following the action and commenting, presumably to make us all feel at home. Branagh himself was given to treating his army as equals, and making his most important speeches in amongst them, where only a handful would have been able to hear a word he said. And so on.

It appears Branagh's Henry is simply one of the lads, and nobility does not seem to have a place. However, even during the hardships of war campaigns, in reality the nobles would have fared much better than the ordinary footsoldier.

Contrast this with Olivier's version in 1944, where speeches are made from horses and above the common rabble (and are made without background music intruding), the armies are accurately depicted and well accoutred. Visors are worn down for battle, horses are well-caparisoned, hats are worn where appropriate (which is most of the time), and the costumes are beautifully researched (Duc de Berry). The tentage is well observed and avoids the seaside stripes so prevalent in re-enactment these days. All in all, Olivier has made much effort to convey the manners, style and culture of 1415.

Whilst accepting there are artistic licences taken by Olivier to heighten the dramatic effect: the French knight being dropped by harness onto his horse before battle, for instance, and the unimaginably long time with the archers in full draw before he drops his sword to unleash their arrows...these, too, make their point, even though he would have known full well they were inaccurate.

Olivier's Azincourt Battle Charge is one of the best pieces of cinema ever made, and allied with Walton's music makes a stunning representation of mediaeval battle. In this excerpt, it is to be found from 8 minutes in.

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Re: Olivier's Henry V

Post by STEENIE »

I totally agree.

As for Olivier doing a lot of his stuff from the back of a horse, it helped that he was a serious horseman and all the scenes in the film of Harry riding are indeed Olivier, as it was in Richard III. Note the same horse (lucky for Olivier that Richard's horse at the battle was a grey called Surry lol). I would also point out the initial charge of the French Knights in the Olivier version at Ajincourt. I assume they are Household of the time. Nonetheless, the guy portraying the Marshal of France, is a god in the saddle. Look to his lower leg as he goes through the gaits to full career!! Perfect!!
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Re: Olivier's Henry V

Post by Ellen Gethin »

A good excuse to watch the film again - to look at men's legs while they're riding!
I believe the extras in the battle scenes were members of the Irish army, as it was made during the Second World War in Ireland, and the Irish were, of course, officially neutral.
And, lovely though the backgrounds were, being based on the Tres Riches Heures, there is one scene where a woman at the back is supposed to be spinning - I'm not sure what she thought she was doing, but it certainly wasn't spinning! Cracks me up every time I watch it.
"Take wrong turns, talk to strangers, open unmarked doors. And if you see a group of people in a field, go find out what they're doing."
JimmyB27, absolutewrite

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