|Posted: 15 October 2019 at 9:34am | IP Logged | 4
Henry V (1944). This film is a real accomplishment. The technicolour is a little too rich for my blood though -- it does work well with the wonderful costumes, but when the film eventually switches from the faux backdrops of the stage to actual location shooting, the green fields still have that sense of unreality which I feel works counter to what Olivier was trying for in gradually making the film more and more realistic as the audience 'makes imaginary puissance'. Similarly, not a fan of the painted backdrops throughout, which may just be a case of me watching with a modern eye (spoilt by the outrageously good matte painting work we got in the 70s and 80s).
Olivier himself is magnetic and commanding in the lead -- and also very inventive. For example, the clearing of his throat backstage at the beginning of the film, and the nuances he introduces in the wooing of Catherine de Valois at the end (I haven't done a side-by-side comparison, but just going off memory, I feel that Branagh borrowed some of these little bits and pieces for his performance in his 1989 version).
It's a remarkable contrast between the sheer volume Olivier is able to generate when commanding his troops in the field to his soft ruminations the night before the battle at Agincourt. He was also quite the horseman! Leaping in armour on to the back of a horse, is not an easy feat. There's also a scene where his horse prances a bit and you seem him instinctively lean over to lay a hand on the horse's shoulder, while not missing a beat in delivering his lines.
In his role as director, his decision to have the camera pan out for the big speeches worked really well, I think. Especially in the famous speech at Harfleur, it gives a dimension of verisimilitude as more and more details enter the frame -- and 70-odd years on it feels fresh, as films generally do not follow this style.
Renee Asherson is a delight as Catherine, and interesting to see Robert Helpmann's distinctive features in the role of the Bishop of Ely. I'm not a fan of the characters of Nym and Pistol and Bardolph, but that's not the film's fault. Nym barely features here, but Robert Newton's Pistol just feels awkwardly juxtaposed with the rest of the proceedings. Esmond Knight is pretty good as Fluellen, though his Welsh accent was more than a little lacking.
Overall, a landmark in how to make a film version of a Shakespeare play.
Edited by Peter Martin on 15 October 2019 at 9:35am