An Age Of Kings – Episode Eight – The Band of Brothers (Henry V)

band

The Band of Brothers concludes the adaptation of Henry V.  It opens with the Chorus’ description of the English camp on the night before the Battle of Agincourt.  Henry (in disguise) moves around the camp to gauge the thoughts of his men.  One of them, Williams (another fine performance from Frank Windsor), is most eloquent on the subject of whether they are right to face the French on the following day.

But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath
a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and
arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join
together at the latter day and cry all ‘We died at
such a place;’ some swearing, some crying for a
surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind
them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their
children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die
well that die in a battle; for how can they
charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their
argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it
will be a black matter for the king that led them to
it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of
subjection.

The next dawn dawns and Henry has one final chance to rouse his men before they do battle.  This is another of Shakespeare’s most famous speeches – the St Crispian’s Day speech – and Robert Hardy attacks it full-bloodily.

This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian:’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.’
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names.
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember’d.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

Whilst we’ve discussed before the problems of staging battles with such limited production resources, it’s disappointing that the Battle of Agincourt is so limply presented.  There surely should have been a way to present it better than this.  We see a shot of feet walking on the spot facing right and then switch to another shot of feet walking on the spot facing left.  The shot then cuts back and forward several times – which is meant to illustrate the two armies marching towards each other.  Then there’s a tight shot of soldiers engaged in a very slow battle, whilst Henry is placed in the foreground, looking towards the camera.  The whole battle sequence lasts only twenty seconds or so.

There’s a number of cuts to the text made – some scenes with Pistol, Gower and Fluellen are excised and Henry’s reaction (“I was not angry since I came to France. Until this instant.”) now occurs immediately after we’ve seen the luggage boys killed, which is used to underscore why he is so keen to ensure that not one Frenchman is left alive.

But the battle’s over, although it takes a little while for it to sink in. When Henry realises he’s won, he sinks to his knees and accepts the congratulations of Fluellen (Kenneth Farrington) who claims Henry as a true-born Welshman. With so much of Fluellen’s role cut (including his duel with Williams in Act Four, Scene Eight) it’s difficult for Farrington to make much of an impression – but at least he manages it here.

The confrontation between Fluellen and the “turkey cock” Pistol in Act Five, Scene One doesn’t play terribly well. Fluellen seems too aggressive and Pistol (George A. Cooper) plays it too broadly. It really needed a lighter comic touch than was presented here.  And given that many of Fluellen’s lines have been cut, it probably would have been better to lose this as well, since it really only works when we’ve seen more of Fluellen.

Things improve when we move to the French court and Henry attempts to woo Katherine. As with Signs of War, Judi Dench impresses as Katherine.  After their courtship, the Chorus returns to being the play to its conclusion by resting a hand on a coffin which contains Henry.  So as the Chorus concludes the tale of Henry V, Henry VI is waiting in the wings.

Next up – Episode Eight – The Red Rose and the White

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