Post by Nicholas on Jun 2, 2016 3:18:24 GMT
Finally caught up with these over the bank holiday, and I’ve got to say I really didn’t like Henry VI. The first part was quite good, because Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins and Sophie Okonedo were very good, but the matter-of-factness to the visuals, the endless scene of posh blokes with hair extensions in dark rooms talking politics, made a mockery of bringing these plays to TV. They were so simple, so repetitive, so visually one-note, so booooooring. I tend to like Cooke, but I can’t help but feel he was swamped by the sheer tedium of the plays with scene after scene of scene-setting politics, and no director could make much of that, but still I wish there’d been more wit to proceedings, more variety, more character to the camera. I quite liked the West Wing-esque walk-and-talk moments, but beyond that I was squinting in the dark as hairy poshos talked politics, and that didn’t do it for me. The second part was MUCH worse for this (poor Andrew Scott, roped in for five minutes with nothing to do but exposition, what a waste of a great actor that was), and the endless, repetitive blood-letting just got boring (what a shame the play’s major moments of contrast – Henry’s speech on the hill, or the father/son on the battlefield – were tossed away as asides to allow for more repetitive shouting and stabbing). The second part of this has to be one of the dullest things I’ve seen on TV this year, and I saw all of ITV’s Beowulf: Return to the sh*tlands.
And we’ve got Tom Sturridge, who seems to me to be one of the worst working actors today. He was rubbish in American Buffalo, galumphing into this naturalistic play about self-deception with such hammy obviousness, playing the role like Smike on smack, or Gollum in Trainspotting, embarrassingly obvious and embarrassingly out-acted by John Goodman (to be fair, most people are). Here, dear god, his one-note DEE-CLAAR-MAAR-TORR-REEEE TOOOOONE made FitKit’s Faustus seem like Lee Strasberg in comparison. Tony and Olivier nominated, so what do I know, but this was like a death mask shouting for four hours. Why wasn’t the much more handsome, much more talented Luke Treadaway in this role?
Richard III’s a much better play, though, which is why things picked up then – not quite as spectacularly as I’d hoped, I can’t agree with the five stars, but there was much to like. After the really quite boring Cumberhamlet, it was nice to see old Cumbers do what he does best, which is a conniving, intelligent arsehole. Yes, it was a bit humourless and I like some fun to my Richards, and no he’s not up there with Rylance or Mckellen or Olivier (high benchmarks, to be fair), but his Frankenstinian focused villain (both brilliant doctor and brutalised monster) suited his style and Cooke’s arc (that said, as humourless, straight-laced Richards go, the bulky, skulking hulk of a Fuhrer in his bunker that was Hans Kesting gets the gold, Kings of War has really stuck with me more than most shows do). More importantly, Cooke pulled his finger out and did something more interesting with the camera – not hard, given there’s more to work with, and too much was still declaiming in dark rooms – and with the Kurosawa-on-the-cheap armies marching, the rapport between Cumbers and the camera, that final helicopter shot, and a certain nice parallel to Thea Sharrock in the Bosworth/Agincourt scenes, this was a far better piece of television, which unlike Henry VI used its medium’s freedom to good, if not great, effect.
One of the joys of the original Hollow Crown was that, in its three directors, there was real exploration and variety. Sharrock’s Henry V was the least exciting, but there was a real solid competence and simple understanding of character in Eyre’s Henry IV, and giving Rupert Goold free reign made Richard II an occasionally OTT and obvious (St Sebastian, sacred lights, Michael Jackson) but always exhilarating watch. That series developed with voice and vision. Perhaps this time it was too few cook(e)s who spoiled the broth (apologies), or more likely Charlie Chaplin himself couldn’t make something cinematic of these plays. Personally, I think the way to make them zing would be to bring out their oddities – more of Joan, more of Jack Cade – but in doing so I suppose the Richard III story gets a bit sidelined. Some good and some great acting aside, Henry VI was a slog, but at least Richard III proved a worthwhile watch in the end.
And after Undercover, nice to see Sophie Okonedo get a story with a half-decent finale.