Sunday, 15 May 2016

Stage-to-screen review: Henry VI Part 2 (BBC Hollow Crown)

The cynical side of me thinks that the middle part of the BBC's Wars of the Roses wouldn't have focused quite so squarely on the future Richard III if they hadn't got Banoffee Hydrochloride to play him; but realistically I think Shakespeare's first tetralogy of English Histories is so roundly considered to be unloved that the one character everyone's heard of would probably have been at the center of Ben Power and Dominic Cooke's The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses - Henry VI Part 2, regardless of who they got to strap on the hunchback. In any case, making this mix of Shakespeare's Parts 2 and 3 effectively a prequel to Richard III lends it the closest thing it has to an overall story arc, in an adaptation that doesn't live up to the dramatic impetus Power and Cooke managed last week in Part 1.

This is the installment where the "wars" part of the subtitle really comes to the fore, the first hour pretty much a succession of battles with no skimping on the squishy sounds as various body parts get lopped off.

So Ben Miles' Somerset get pretty swiftly dispatched at the start (while I mainly wondered how Stuart McQuarrie's Vernon got his head off so cleanly at such an awkward angle,) leaving a grieving Margaret (Sophie Okonedo) to go full-on warrior queen in her furious fight for revenge; while Jason Watkins' Suffolk got a grisly stabbing in the throat from Warwick, played by Stanley Townsend's beard. This second death also prompted another quest for revenge against the Yorkists, from Suffolk's son Clifford.

The always watchable Kyle Soller did well with a story arc that, like so much else in the film, didn't really get much chance to breathe; his ruthless dispatch of Angus Imrie's Edmund, youngest of York's sons, got its comeuppance in turn when Bogdan Calabash's Richard refused him his speedy death and let him suffer: Even when it's not the strongest adaptation, it always feels odd how Richard III can stand alone so easily given how much of its setup is in Henry VI Part 3 particularly, whether Richard be presented as the ruthless pragmatist or, as here, taking that little bit more glee in cruelty than everyone else around him. Of course the final play will be marked by a lot of soliloquies, and it was always likely Cooke would opt for House of Cards-style confidences to the audience, but I'm not sure having Bobafett Hollaback turn to camera 15 minutes before the end was the best timing - it feels an abrupt change of style in a film that's otherwise been part of a confident screen debut from Cooke.

The series' luxury casting extends to a very brief trip to France for Andrew Scott to make a cameo as King Louis with Mariah Gale blink-and-you'll-miss-her as Lady Bona, but this all does show up the fact that Tom Sturridge isn't really up to the title role. It's a tricky one, Shakespeare's pro-Lancastrian leanings never really let him delve into how mentally ill Henry most likely was, but having been spoilt by the likes of Graham Butler and Alex Waldmann giving him some depth, by contrast Sturridge's Henry just looks thoroughly bored by the whole thing. So overall it's all a bit Difficult Second Album as the middle section of the trilogy doesn't hold the attention like the first did, but hopefully Cooke will pull everything together for the popular finale - and having spent the first two weeks getting to know the characters Richard will be cheerfully hacking to pieces in the third should add some context and poignancy to their fates.

Running time: 2 hours 5 minutes.

No comments:

Post a Comment