William Shakespeare Shakespeare on Film

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Preface to the Film Reviews

Preface to the Film Reviews:
Just because a film is named after one of Shakespeare's plays and credits him as a writer, it does not follow that the film will be Shakespeare's play. In fact, it is almost a movie-industry-wide practice to cut more than two-thirds of the text. This cutting is done for several reasons, but primarily because (1) cutting allows the director more freedom in presenting his interpretation of the text of the play, and (2) most modern audiences are uncomfortable sitting through a film that lasts longer than 120 to 150 minutes. Therefore, for the following films, textual analysis is kept to a minimum. A critical analysis of the text may be found at any of our click-guides to the plays.

It should be noted that the only complete series of all of Shakespeare's plays is the BBC Shakespeare Series, which were done in period costume and formatted for television. They are done using full texts, but are also subject to directorial choices. It is important to remember that these films are interpretations of Shakespeare's plays.

Henry V (1944)

World War II was at its height, and it was becoming obvious that if the British were to prevent invasion by Hitler, they would have to do something drastic. Building morale among their people and their troops became a priority. Laurence Olivier rose to the occasion, and, despite a shortage of resources, filmed this excellent treatment of Henry V, his first effort at Shakespeare on film. No other film, with the possible exception of Shakespeare in Love, sets the scene the way Olivier does. The film opens with an audience filing into a recreated Globe Theatre in Elizabethan London. As the Chorus proceeds, the setting moves to the court of Henry V, the king who had fought and won France for the English. Olivier purposely chose to focus on the patriotic themes of the play, and the result was that the film was an overwhelming success. It does have its quirks, however. In the 'unto the breach' scene, Olivier had to make do with American soldiers for Henry's army. They can be identified as the ones with their helmets on the back of their heads like baseball caps. Because England had been devastated by the blitz, the set was Ireland. But it was the spirit of non-defeat and patriotism that Olivier captured so well. Even the courting scene of Katherine and Henry has a fairy-tale beauty about it. Although some of the bits, such as the 'leek' scene with Fluellen, may be a little difficult to understand, this film explains why Olivier was so respected for his in Shakespeare on film and set the standard for the remainder of the 20th century. This film is a must-see. - J.R. Costa

Cast: Chorus: Leslie Banks; Archbishop of Canterbury: Felix Aylmer; Bishop of Ely: Robert Helpmann; English Herald: Vernon Greeves; Earl of Westmorland: Gerald Case; Earl of Salisbury: Griffith Jones; Sir Thomas Erpingham: Morland Graham; Duke of Exeter: Nicholas Hannen; Duke of Gloucester: Michael Warre; King Henry V: Laurence Olivier; Mountjoy: Ralph Truman; Duke of Berri: Ernest Thesiger; Lieutenant Bardolph: Roy Emerton; Ancient Pistol: Robert Newton; Mistress Quickly: Freda Jackson; Boy: George Cole; Sir John Falstaff: George Robey; King Charles VI of France: Harcourt Williams; Duke of Bourbon: Russell Thorndike; Constable of France: Leo Genn; Duke of Orleans: Francis Lister; The Dauphin: Max Adrian; French Messenger: Jonathan Field; Fluellen: Esmond Knight; Captain Gower: Michael Shepley; Captain Jamie: John Laurie; Captain MacMorris: Niall MacGinnis; Governor of Harfleur: Frank Tickle; Princess Katherine: Renee Asherson; Alice: Ivy St. Helier; Queen Isabel of France: Janet Burnell; Court: Brian Nissen; Bates: Arthur Hambling; Williams: Jimmy Hanley; Priest: Ernest Hare; Duke of Burgundy: Valentine Dyall.

Director: Reginald Beck, Laurence Olivier; Writers: Dallas Bower, Alan Dent, Laurence Olivier, William Shakespeare; Producers: Dallas Bower, Filippo Del Guidice, Laurence Olivier; Production Company: Two Cities Films Ltd. (UK).

(The entire section is 7,752 words.)