Laurence Olivier Bosley Crowther - Essay

Anthony Holden

Bosley Crowther

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

["Henry V" is] a stunningly brilliant and intriguing screen spectacle, rich in theatrical invention, in heroic imagery and also gracefully regardful of the conventions of the Elizabethan stage….

Certainly the story in this chronicle could not have lured Mr. Olivier too much, nor could the chance to explore a complex character have been the bait to draw him on. For the reasons for Henry's expedition against France, as laid down in the play, are neither flattering to him nor to his churchly counselors. The Bishops conspire to urge Henry to carry his claims against France in order to distract the Commons from confiscating their lands; and Henry apparently falls for it, out of sheer royal vanity and greed. His invasion of France is quite clearly a war of aggrandizement, and his nature appears slightly naive when he argues the justice of his cause.

But that, of course, is Shakespeare; and Mr. Olivier and his editor, Reginald Beck, have not attempted to change it. They have simply cut large chunks out of the play, especially the plot of the traitors, to get at the action and the meat. Thus reduced of excessive conversations (though it might have been trimmed even more), they have mounted the play with faithful service to the spirit and the word. That service is as truly magnificent as any ever given to a Shakespearian script…. (p. 2122)

The tumult of the armorers' preparations, the stretch of bow-men...

(The entire section is 441 words.)