Sunday, September 20, 2009

Henry V (1989)

TOP 100 FILMS: #79

After being insulted by the king of France, young King Henry V (Kenneth Branagh) leads his English army into the depths of France, and into one of the bloodiest wars in history.

Deciding between Olivier and Branagh's versions of Henry V and Hamlet depend entirely on what you look for in your movies. If you like your play adaptations to be literal in their shot technique, Olivier is your man, a method I think works great for his Hamlet, but if you're looking for very cinematic style, Branagh brings Henry V to screen in amazing form. As Branagh and Olivier both know, there's no adapting Shakespeare's words for the screen, you just don't do it, and as such both seek to capitalize on his use of them.

Yet Branagh goes the extra mile, he brings to life Shakespeare's highly underrated play, encompassing a world within the film, self aware, and yet a gritty look at war. Using Derek Jacobi as the narrator, Henry V comes to life in the hands of Branagh, with amazing performances from Branagh himself, and supporting stars Ian Holm, Robbie Coltrane, Emma Thompson, and a very young Christian Bale. Each delivering their performance in fine form, grasping the dark, and gritty nature Branagh seeks to show amidst the 80s anti-war film movement (alongside films like Platoon).

In doing so Branagh creates what may just be one of the single greatest shots ever designed for a play to film adaptation. The post battle march of the wounded song scene is simply perfection personified. It may be worth watching this entire film alone for that one scene alone, as you grasp all the meaning of the entire film, and the pain felt by each of these characters, in a simple no-cut 3minute shot. Some directors will go their entire career and not design a shot 1/10th a great as that single one.

Yet one shot alone does not make a film, and Branagh knows this. Leading up to it, he keeps the film moving, even during conversations, people are always running around rooms, moving in halls, charging on horses. As such Branagh keeps the pace fast, gripping, ever building in anticipation. While at the same time utilizing some of the Henry play back stories from Shakespeare to give a grander perspective of those outside the mind of the King. So as, we are rewarded with a Shakespeare adaptation that is both concise, entertaining, gripping, and when it comes to films on Henry V, unmatched in execution.

While it depends on your flair of film, in terms of play adapting, Branagh's 1989 masterpiece brings to life one of the most cinematically inclined plays of all time.

1 better thoughts:

DEZMOND said...

Branagh has always been a pure cinematic genious. HAMLET would be my favourite of his works, but all are amazing. Can't wait to see his THOR.

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