Register  |   Log In  |  
Sign up to our weekly newsletter    
Search   
Empire Magazine and iPad
Follow Me on Pinterest YouTube Tumblr
Empire
Trending On Empire
The Future Of Film
The 100 Greatest Video Games
Robin Williams: The Big Interview
Kevin Feige:
My Movie Life

The Marvel supremo's pick of the flicks
Subscribe: Get 6 Issues For £15
Get Empire magazine today and save money!
Reviews
STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
Unmissable 5 Stars
Excellent 4 Stars
Good 3 Stars
Poor 2 Stars
Tragic 1 Star

FILM DETAILS
Certificate
PG
Cast
Kenneth Branagh
Brian Blessed
Paul Scofield
Emma Thompson
Derek Jacobi
Judi Dench.
Directors
Kenneth Branagh.
Screenwriters
Kenneth Branagh.
Running Time
137 minutes

LATEST FILM REVIEWS
Honeymoon
3 Star Empire Rating
Last Impresario, The
3 Star Empire Rating
I Origins
4 Star Empire Rating
Soul Boys Of The Western World
4 Star Empire Rating
What We Did On Our Holiday
3 Star Empire Rating



5 STAR REVIEWS
Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari, The
5 Star Empire Rating
Two Days, One Night
5 Star Empire Rating
Some Like It Hot
5 Star Empire Rating
A Hard Day's Night
5 Star Empire Rating
Boyhood
5 Star Empire Rating

Henry V
Branagh's blistering directorial debut.


submit to reddit


Plot
Britain's young king still carries his reputation from his wild days as an irresponsible prince. After an insultiong rebuttal, he marches an army of inferior numbers into France, which becomes a journey of both personal and collective self-doubt, from which the English emerge to meet their opponents on the field of Agincourt.


Review
Kenneth Branagh's bold decision to open his career as a film director with Henry V was brought into even sharper focus by the death of Laurence Olivier just two months prior to its release. Olivier also made his directorial debut with it in 1944, and his performance as Henry - perhaps like his Hamlet, and certainly like his Richard III - is regarded as pretty close to definitive. So it wasn't only the Bard that the 28-year old Branagh is taking on here; 'twas also the stuff of film legend.

A tall order then - comparisons could hardly be more invidious. But Branagh has grasped the nettle, and it's a relief as much as a pleasure to see him emerge with credit, both as a director and performer. This is despite, rather than because of, a strange conviction he outlines in the production notes. Olivier's film was made in the heat of World War II, and its impossible not to see part of it as an exercise in propaganda. Branagh, however, was apparently convinced that "here was a play to be reclaimed from jingoism". How can this be, when national fervour is its dominant note and the play is one of Shakespeare's most patriotic works? It's like attempting to 'reclaim' the New Testament from Christianity.

At any rate, what happens up on screen patently contradicts Branagh's avowed intention. He plays Henry as a noble warrior king (there's no other way to play it), believing in the justice of his claim to the throne of France and rousing the yeomen of England to follow him. He is also a man keenly aware of his past, and we are reminded, through flashbacks, of his days as a 'madcap prince' when he sought the company of knaves and low-lifes - Falstaff (a brief cameo by Robbie Coltrane) foremost among them. The latter is now dead, and Henry has since attained a stern maturity, to the point where he refuses clemency to Bardolph, a thief - and erstwhile friend - sentenced to hang. Yet there's still a touching hint of vulnerability behind the regal armour; when the Governor of Harfleur capitulates before Henry's threats of slaughter, Branagh, instead of strutting like a turkey cock, simply heaves a sigh of relief.

Derek Jacobi's prologue drifts in and out of frame, setting an appropriately dignified tone for the epic scenes about to unfold. Branagh has opened out the play from its stagebound origins to encompass what might easily pass for 'the vasty fields of France' and the Agincourt sequences are handled admirably - a melee of blood, mud and steel. The long tracking shot which closes the battle, accompanied by the Non Nobis anthem is a spectacular coup.

The only thing which threatens to puncture the film's august atmosphere is, oddly enough, its cast. You keep spotting great British Character Actors until it becomes a distraction - there's Judi Dench, there's Brian Blessed, and Ian Holm. Geraldine McEwan, isn't that Paul Scofield? and so on. A cast so full of stars begins to smack of Christmas panto, particularly with the likes of Richard Briers as the raddled Bardolph.

Branagh's Henry V must, however, be counted a success - it might never be as famous as Olivier's, but it should carry considerable clout for years to come.


Verdict
Add a star if you're not distracted by the 'spot the thesp' cast. This is a cracking interpretation of the material, and one destined to be included on syllabuses for years to come. Branagh has done two things Olivier never really managed - made it accessible, and more importantly, made it cinematic.


Reviewed by Anthony Quinn

Write Your Review
To write your review please login or register.

Your Reviews

Average user rating for Henry V
Empire Star Rating

RE: Henry V

Is this microphone on? h, um, there we are... ... More

Posted by Hood_Man at 22:29, 16 October 2013 | Report This Post


"Add a star if you're not distracted by the 'spot the thesp' cast." Done! This film is so rousing and patriotic that it makes me want to declare war on the first Frenchman I see. I've never enjoyed Shakespeare so much, this is terrific stuff. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Hood_Man at 21:38, 16 October 2013 | Report This Post


SPECIAL FEATURE
The 301 Greatest Movies Of All Time EMPIRE READERS' POLL: THE 301 GREATEST MOVIES OF ALL TIME
You turned out in your hundreds and thousands, and here are the results... Browse the full list


CURRENT HIGHLIGHTS
The Future Of Film: Cinema Will Cross The Uncanny Valley
The future of VFX, from believable digital humans to underwater mocap

The Future Of Film: There Will Be Another Indie Golden Age
Independent producers are growing from micro-budgets to something a lot bigger

Empire's Epic Interstellar Subscribers' Cover
The countdown begins to Christopher Nolan's sci-fi masterpiece

The Future Of Film: Your Favourite Movie WIll Be Crowdfunded
Click here to donate

The Empire Podcast #128: Interviews With Sir Roger Moore And George MacKay
Plus we say goodbye to Richard Kiel and the British Expendables are assembled...

Shut Up, World! Gary Busey Is Talking!
Strap yourselves in and meet a true Hollywood original.

Classic Feature: Gods Among Us - Paul Newman
A cat so cool he makes Steve McQueen look geeky.

Subscribe to Empire magazine
Get 6 Issues Of Empire For Only £15!

Get exclusive subscriber-only covers each month!

Subscribe today

Subscribe to Empire iPad edition
Get The Empire iPad Edition Today

Subscribe and save maney on annual digital subscription

Subscribe today
Buy single issues

Get 6 issues of Empire for just £15!
Get the world's greatest movie magazine delivered straight to your door! Subscribe today!
Empire's Film Studies 101 Series
Everything you ever wanted to know about filmmaking but were afraid to ask...
The Empire iPad Edition
With exclusive extras, interactive features, trailers and much more! Download now
Home  |  News  |  Blogs  |  Reviews  |  Future Films  |  Features  |  Interviews  |  Images  |  Competitions  |  Forum  |  iPad  |  Podcast  |  Magazine Contact Us  |  Empire FAQ  |  Subscribe To Empire  |  Register
© Bauer Consumer Media Ltd  |  Legal Info  |  Editorial Complaints  |  Privacy Policy  |  Bauer Entertainment Network
Bauer Consumer Media Ltd (company number 01176085 and registered address 1 Lincoln Court, Lincoln Road, Peterborough, England PE1 2RF)