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Henry V Movie Review

olivier laurence france awards

1944 – Laurence Olivier –

Shakespeare begins his play with a chorus lamenting that the “wooden O” of the stage cannot hold the “vasty fields of France,” and Olivier starts his film with an extended sequence set on May 1, 1600, at the Globe theater as we watch the opening of this play in the way its original audience might have. They eagerly involve themselves with what they see on stage. These noisy spectators munching on oranges moan at the report of the King's (Laurence Olivier) prior banishment of Falstaff (George Roby), the pub companion of his youth, and laugh at the tedious recitation of Salic law that Henry uses as a pretext for his incursion into France. After the Dauphin (Max Adrian) makes a present to Henry of tennis balls (a joke about his sportive youth and unfitness for the throne) and Henry rouses himself in anger at France, the epic nature of the conflict bursts its bounds. The framing device of watching a performance at the Globe gives way to the spectacle of the siege at Harfleur and the battle at Agincourt.

Olivier's approach stresses the inspirational, patriotic aspects of the play. It lifted the hearts of wartime audiences and still thrills today with outdoor scenes that are bright, colorful, and clean. When long shots capture far off castles, they have an Oz-like look to them, as if they have been taken from some medieval illuminated manuscript. Olivier's performance is suitably regal. We first see him backstage during the Globe scenes, giving a little cough before he strides on stage to the cheers of the audience. He is fiery in his anger at the French and inspiring in the famous pre-battle speeches. He stages the St. Crispin's Day speech as a horizontal tracking shot that starts as a conversational rebuke to Westmoreland for wanting more men to offset their five-to-one underdog plight and builds to a great verbal and visual crescendo. The film was the best screen version of Shakespeare to that time and is still excellent today.

Cast: Laurence Olivier (King Henry V), Robert Newton (Ancient Pistol), Leslie Banks (Chorus), Renee Asherson (Princess Katharine), Esmond Knight (Fluellen), Leo Genn (Constable of France), Ralph Truman (Mountjoy), Harcourt Williams (King Charles VI of France), Ivy St. Helier (Alice), Ernest Thesiger (Duke of Berri), Max Adrian (The Dauphin), Valentine Dyall (Duke of Burgundy), Russell Thorndike (Duke of Bourbon), Felix Aylmer (Archbishop of Canterbury), Roy Emerton (Lieutenant Bardolph), Robert Helpmann (Bishop of Ely), Niall MacGinnis (Mac-Morris), John Laurie (Jamy), Michael Shepley (Gower), Freda Jackson (Mistress Quickly), Frederick Cooper (Nym), George Roby (Falstaff) Screenwriter: Alan Dent, Reginald Beck, Laurence Olivier Cinematographer: Robert Krasker Composer: William Walton Producer: Laurence Olivier for Two Cities; released by the Rank Organization Running Time: 137 minutes Format: VHS Awards: National Board of Review Awards, 1946: 10 Best Films of the Year; New York Film Critics Awards, 1946: Actor (Laurence Olivier); Academy Awards, 1946: Nominations: Actor (Laurence Olivier), Interior Decoration, Picture, Score.

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