Henry IV Part I

 

Shakespeare Henry IV Part I play. Directed 2014 by Gregory Doran at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Stars Jasper Britton (King Henry IV), Alex Hassell (Prince Hal), Antony Sher (Sir John Falstaff), Trevor White (Hotspur), Sean Chapman (Earl of Northumberland/Earl of Douglas), Joshua Richards (Bardolph/Owen Glendower), Paola Dionisotti (Mistress Quickly), Jennifer Kirby (Lady Percy), Elliot Barnes-Worrell (Prince John/Francis), Marin Bassindale (Peto), Antony Byrne (Earl of Worcester), Nicholas Gerard-Martin (Carrier/Sir Michael), Robert Gilbert (Lord Edmund Mortimer/Carrier), Jonny Glynn (Rakehell), Nia Gwynne (Lady Mortimer), Jim Hooper (Sir Richard Vernon), Yousseff Kerkour (Earl of Westmoreland/Ostler), Sam Marks (Ned Poins), Keith Osborn (Archbishop of York/Sheriff), Leigh Quinn (Traveller),  Simon Thorp (Sir Walter Blunt/Lord Chief Justice),  and Simon Yadoo (Chamberlain/Vinter). Designed by Stephen Brimson Lewis; lighting by Tim Mitchell; music by Paul Englishby; sound by Martin Slavin; movement by Michael Ashcroft; fights by Terry King; screen director was Robin Lough; screen producer was John Wyver. Released 2015, this disc has 5.1 dts Master Audio. Grade: A+

Henry IV, Part 1 is the second of four plays Shakespeare wrote (called the Henriad) about the early struggles among the descendants of Edward III (Richard II; Henry IV, Part 1; Henry IV, Part 2; and Henry V). The Henriad covers 3 kings and 45 years leading up to Henry VI and the beginning of the War of the Roses.

The RSC and Opus Arte recorded in 2013 a Richard II published in 2014. (We gave that disc an "A" grade.) The only actor who plays the same character in both Richard II and the two Henry IV plays is Sean Chapman as the Earl of Northumberland, so there's little continuity there. But there are 9 actors who play the same roles in both parts of Henry IV. Part 1 of Henry IV is one of Shakespeare's most famous works. So if you invest time in learning the characters in Part 1, you will find it relatively easy to enjoy Part 2.

The Henry IV plays are astonishingly rich because they are history plays and comedies mashed together. In the screenshot below we meet Henry IV (Jasper Britton) not long after he led the English royalties in deposing Richard II. Already there is tension between Henry IV and the royalties who put him in power. The most prominent troublemakers are the Earl of Northumberland and his aggressive son Henry Percy, also known as "Harry", but mostly called "Hotspur." The King already sees Hotspur, a brilliant soldier and leader, as a potential usurper of the crown. The fame of Hotspur is especially galling to the King because the King has a son of his own named Henry, who is often called "Harry" or "Hal." The King is partly estranged from his Harry, who, in stark contrast to the ambitious Hotspur, is a slacker and delinquent. In the quote below "him" refers to Hotspur:

Hotspur (Trevor White):

Now we meet Prince Hal (Alex Hassell) and his friend, the degenerate knight Sir John Falstaff (Antony Sher). They are recovering from a hard night in a London brothel:

Bardolph (Joshua Richards), another of Hal's friends:

Mistress Quickly (Paola Dionisotti) runs a tavern in Eastcheap that is popular with Hal, Falstaff, and company:

Hal knows that he is letting down his father. He contends that his dissolute life will one day make his assent to power all the more glorious:

The history plays are populated mostly by men of action. But Shakespeare's few female roles are vivid. Here we see Jennifer Kirby in the role of Kate, or Lady Percy, Hotspur's wife.  Kate is trying to contend with her ferocious husband:

And here is Lady Mortimer (Nia Gwynne), madly in love with her husband Mortimer (Robert Gilbert) even though neither speaks the language of the other:

Here's a shot from the famous scene where Falstaff commits a highway robbery and is then robbed by Prince Hal and Poins (Sam Marks) in disguise:

Falstaff is considered by experts to be Shakespeare's most brilliant character creation (after Hamlet). Another famous scene in the tavern where Falstaff plays the part of the King lecturing his son, Prince Hal:

And next Hal and Falstaff exchange roles in the lecture:

When the insurrection against the King breaks out, Falstaff, being a knight, must go to war along with Prince Hal:

Hal tries to repair his relationship to the King and restore his honour:

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But Falstaff, interested in drink rather than honour, has the last word in another famous scene:

Terry King, Robin Lough, Alex Hassell, and Trevor White provide the best live fight scene I can recall seeing. Prince Hal defeats Hotspur. This gives King Henry IV some breathing room in his efforts to lead and control his country, and it begins the rehabilitation of Prince Hal as he prepares to eventually wear the crown himself:

Sir John prudently avoids most of the battle by pretending he is dead:

But out of shame, he promises to change his life. How long do you think this resolution will last?

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These few screenshots can only scratch the surface of all that is packed into this play. To fully enjoy it, you must study an annotated text of the play and/or a good student outline. But with that background, you should find this production deeply satisfying as every aspect of it would be beyond any criticism I could make. Even the original music is extraordinarily good.

I learned this play in college. I remember watching it on early color TV when the BBC produced all the Shakespeare plays. I've seen it live. Finally, I briefly researched a number of other productions of this that are on the market in DVD and Blu-ray. I make this statement with conviction: this HDVD of Henry IV, Part 1 is probably the best resource for home viewing of this uncut stage play that has ever been done.  Grade: "A+."

Here's some stage video, very similar to the Blu-ray disc, of one of Shakespeare's most famous scenes: