DVD review: “The Hollow Crown – Ultimate Collection” (2019)

“The Hollow Crown – Ultimate Collection” (2019)

Historial Drama


Running Time: 528 minutes

Directed by: Rupert Goold, Richard Eyre, Thea Sharrock and Dominic Cooke

Featuring: Ben Whishaw, Jeremy Irons and Tom Hiddleston

Released this week on DVD is the ultimate edition of both parts of the acclaimed Shakespearian adaptation of the plays in the Henriad.

This television show is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s second historical tetralogy, the Henriad: Richard II, Henry IV, Part I and Henry IV, Part II and Henry V.

The first series, which aired in the United Kingdom in 2012, was unanimously hailed as a success with Ben Whishaw and Simon Russell Beale winning BAFTA’s for Leading actor and Supporting actor for their performances, Jeremy Irons was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Awards for Best Actor for his role as Henry IV. The first episode, Richard II, was nominated for the Best Single Drama at the BAFTAs.


  1. Richard II (148 minutes)

Adapted and Directed by Rupert Goold

Featuring: Ben Whishaw (King Richard), Rory Kinnear (Henry Bolingbroke), James Purefoy (Thomas Mowbray), Patrick Stewart (John of Gaunt) and David Morrissey (Northumberland)

2. Henry IV Part I (120 minutes)

Directed and adapted by Richard Eyre.

WITH: Tom Hiddleston (Prince Hal), Jeremy Irons (King Henry), Julie Walters (Mistress Quickly), Simon Russell Beale (Falstaff), Joe Armstrong (Hotspur), Alun Armstrong (Northumberland), David Hayman (Worcester) and Michelle Dockery (Kate Percy)

3. Henry IV Part II (121 minutes)

Directed and adapted by Mr. Eyre.

WITH: Mr. Hiddleston (Prince Hal), Mr. Irons (King Henry), Ms. Walters (Mistress Quickly), Mr. Beale (Falstaff), Alun Armstrong (Northumberland), Geoffrey Palmer (Lord Chief Justice), Ms. Dockery (Kate Percy) and Maxine Peake (Doll Tearsheet)

4. Henry V (139 minutes)

Directed by Thea Sharrock; adapted by Mr. Power.

WITH: Jérémie Covillault (French Ambassador), Anton Lesser (Exeter), Paterson Joseph (York), John Hurt (Chorus) and Lambert Wilson (French King)

“The Hollow Crown” is something unique for television in that it gives its audience three amazing performances by three actors arguably not only at the top of their game but also as popular as any actors have been in Ben Whishaw (King Richard), Tom Hiddleston (Prince Hal) and Jeremy Irons (King Henry) – true lead performances in the plays of the Henriad, the epic trilogy that tells the story of the opening salvos of the Wars Of The Roses.

“The Hollow Crown” is a triumph for television particularly because it is extremely dense and complicated so the dramatists and directors need to be commended for the way this series has turned out, and of course the sequel.  Henry IV is split into two parts; onscreen, it clocks in at four-and-a-half hours of solid Shakespeare. Richard II is left mostly intact, save some editing down, while Henry IV and V are rearranged so that some scenes can happen before others, or even simultaneously.

The way each play flows in “The Hollow Crown” means that actors can play the same roles throughout the four hour running time. We see for example, Simon Russell Beale and Tom Hiddleston at the opening scene of “Henry IV, Part I” to the end of “Henry V”. The great Sam Mendes is the producer on all three plays so there is a common thread that is kept a hold of, and this is done extremely well. In doing this it has meant that Mendes has employed very different directors on each seperate instalment, meaning that visually the palette and mis-en-scene change markedly throughout.

Of the three, my and I think many peoples favourite is the always intriguing “Richard II”, Ben Wishaw overcomes some very real shortcomings by the director to deliver probably the best performance of the entire series – as stated he delivers an award winning performance. Rory Kinnear, as Wishaws antagonist is equally brilliant and it is a performance that has been promoted for years, of course an actors best performance should be in response to the Bards work.

The other breakout of “The Hollow Crown” is Tom Hiddleston, who, like Whishaw, takes his role by storm. He’s given a trickier character to play—less nuanced, and yet truly confounding. In Prince Hal, Shakespeare presents a story of total transformation, told so obliquely as to be almost invisible. Hiddleston doesn’t leap of the screen in the role, but that’s precisely because he’s not supposed to. Instead, the actor presents the true grandeur of his character—his baffling commoner’s spirit, combined with his regal majesty.

Massive casts – including  Jeremy Irons, Michelle Dockery, Patrick Stewart, and John Hurt – and endless dialogue could be a distraction to “The Hollow Crown”, however because each director brings their own look as well as spark, they spread out each actors input mixing it expertly with all the other tools in their quiver – of course it is to Shakespeare himself that the kudos go to with timeless narratives that would not be out of place in our world, or stolen from him to be put into other narratives that have come into being on other networks.

“The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses”

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.

  1. 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)

2. 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)

3. 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.

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