DVD/Blu-ray review: “Hollow Crown Series 2: The War of the Roses” (2016)

“The Hollow Crown” (2012)

Historical Drama


Three years after the BBC filmed the four Elizabethan docudramas known as “The Henriad” – “Richard II,” “Henry IV” (parts 1 and 2) and “Henry V” – as “The Hollow Crown,” it picks up the history with “The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses”. It recounts the history of the houses of Lancaster and York as they vie for control of England across much of the 15th century.

Henry VI, Part 1
(111 minutes)

Adapted by Ben Power; Directed by Dominic Cooke

WITH: Sophie Okonedo (Queen Margaret), Hugh Bonneville (Gloucester), Sally Hawkins (Duchess of Gloucester), Tom Sturridge (Henry VI), Adrian Dunbar (Richard of York), Stuart McQuarrie (Vernon), Lucy Robinson (Young Cecily), Samuel West (Bishop of Winchester), Stanley Townsend (Warwick), Michael Gambon (Mortimer), Anton Lesser (Exeter), Ben Miles (Somerset), Jason Watkins (Suffolk), Philip Glenister (Talbot), David Troughton (Duke of Anjou) and Laura Frances-Morgan (Joan of Arc)

Henry VI, Parts II & III
(123 minutes)

Adapted by Ben Power; Directed by Dominic Cooke

WITH: Benedict Cumberbatch (Richard Plantagenet), Sophie Okonedo (Queen Margaret), Keeley Hawes (Queen Elizabeth), Tom Sturridge (Henry VI), Angus Imrie (Edmund Plantagenet), Adrian Dunbar (Plantagenet), Geoffrey Streatfeild (Edward IV), Sam Troughton (Clarence), Stuart McQuarrie (Vernon), Kyle Soller (Clifford), Richard Lynch (Westmorland), Lucy Robinson (Young Cecily), Stanley Townsend (Warwick), Anton Lesser (Exeter), Ben Daniels (Buckingham), Ben Miles (Somerset), Jason Watkins (Suffolk), Phoebe Fox (Lady Anne), James Fleet (Hastings), Andrew Scott (King Louis)

Richard III
(130 minutes)

Adapted by Ben Power; Directed by Dominic Cooke

WITH: Judi Dench (Cecily, Duchess of York), Benedict Cumberbatch (Richard III), Sophie Okonedo (Queen Margaret), Keeley Hawes (Queen Elizabeth), Geoffrey Streatfeild (Edward IV), Sam Troughton (Clarence), Ben Daniels (Buckingham), James Fleet (Hastings), Phoebe Fox (Queen Anne), Luke Treadaway (Henry VII)

This is the second and last season of the “Hollow Crown”, with it brings some mixed blessings. The one thing I was looking forward to was the portrayal of the mercurial,  often played with a wink, Richard III, portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch. I used the word play as this is one of those Shakespearean characters that is based on a real person but possibly was written as what we would recognize as an ‘arch’ or archetypal villain – a shame as he was always going to be a villain to Shakespeare as instructed by Queen Elizabeth. As Richard III, Cumberbatch, like many of his best roles can be quiet, as well as loud, so here he is at his finest when we see him go from the battles to intimate conversations – this is a great role from an actor whose reputation only seems to grow as the years roll on.

One of the biggest and most obvious changes from series one to two, was to let one director, Dominic Cooke, let loose on the entire season which lends itself to keeping the tone and look the same throughout, which is not to say that this is a negative but it does mean the flourishes from story to story seen in series one are gone. Cooke who has no real credited television experience is a National Theatre director of some note, which of course means he is no stranger to directing Shakespeare, but his inexperience can be seen throughout this run.

The story of a dictator coming to power seems extremely relevant, maybe more so today than when these plays were conceived and written. It seems that when these television series were conceived to be remade for this new millennium the producers had an inkling of what was to come to pass in late 2016. When we are faced with what we prefaced with in the post-Trump, post-Truth era – has there ever been a monarch who shaped themselves as well as their enemies through a writer like Shakespeare – was he the Fox News of his time? Probably not, as well as being a little harsh from me, that really does more credit to the way Trump came to power than he deserves. But as the next eight years unfold we are going to see narratives form around Trump, his allies as well as the Republican Party that are going to shape politics for the foreseeable future.

Of course where would a Shakespeare play or plays be without the actors, we have Tom Sturridge as King Henry VI, Sophie Okonedo as Queen Margaret, Hugh Bonneville as Gloucester and rounding out the cast are the always magnificent Michael Gambon and Judi Dench. There is no doubt that the casting is excellent, but the most exciting actor to watch, for me, is the electrifying Sophie Okonedo who brings such authenticity to her performances in everything she appears in, this is no truer than her portrayal of Queen Margaret – as well as Cumberbatch as Richard III, it is Okonedo who the audience is unable to take their eyes off.

If you are looking for absolutely great television that is epic in scope in this age of “Game of Thrones”, then this and the first series of the “Hollow Crown” are for you, this is the very origins of epic storytelling as well as the chase for power where people will do anything for it and in this age of Trump, Brexit and the upcoming elections in the UK you could worse than looking to Shakespeare for lessons on morality and the hunger for power at any cost.

Out now on DVD & Blu-ray.

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