The Road To Shrewsbury opens with Hotspur (Sean Connery) enduring the boastful claims of his ally Owen Glendower (William Squire). Although Glendower isn’t a large part, it’s a scene-stealing gift for any decent actor and Squire certainly takes advantage. Although Squire was born in Neath, Glamorgan, few of his more familiar roles (he was probably best known for appearing opposite Edward Woodward in the Thames series of Callan) called on him to use a Welsh accent, so this is a good opportunity for him to act broadly Welsh. Glendower is certainly a character that has, shall we say, a good opinion of himself.
Cousin, of many men
I do not bear these crossings. Give me leave
To tell you once again that at my birth
The front of heaven was full of fiery shapes,
The goats ran from the mountains, and the herds
Were strangely clamorous to the frighted fields.
These signs have mark’d me extraordinary;
And all the courses of my life do show
I am not in the roll of common men.
Hotspur seems unimpressed with such hyperbole and Connery plays this opening section well – capturing the mocking and insolent nature of Hotspur, which still manages to earn the respect of Glendower.
On the other side, Hal (Robert Hardy) is re-united with his father, the King (Tom Fleming). Although Hal initially seems to be the same casual character we saw in Rebellion from the North, very quickly it becomes apparent that he’s now prepared to put aside his dissolute past and grasp his destiny.
I will redeem all this on Percy’s head
And in the closing of some glorious day
Be bold to tell you that I am your son;
When I will wear a garment all of blood
And stain my favours in a bloody mask,
Which, wash’d away, shall scour my shame with it:
And that shall be the day, whene’er it lights,
That this same child of honour and renown,
This gallant Hotspur, this all-praised knight,
And your unthought-of Harry chance to meet.
For every honour sitting on his helm,
Would they were multitudes, and on my head
My shames redoubled! for the time will come,
That I shall make this northern youth exchange
His glorious deeds for my indignities.
Although Connery is more central to the episode than Hardy (at least until the closing fifteen minutes or so), Hardy is more than able to make a favourable impression during these scenes with the King, and Tom Fleming as Henry IV continues to impress.
Battle scenes throughout An Age of Kings are always somewhat problematic. The nature of live recording, small casts and the limited studio space are all factors which need to be appreciated. There are a few interesting moments though – initially shots of the battlefield are overlaid on the faces of Hotspur and Hal, for example.
Elsewhere, the viewer is required to use their imagination that while they can hear an army offscreen, they can only see a handful of soldiers (this, of course, is a similar experience to watching the play on the stage). Eventually, Hotspur and Hal meet and duel to the death. Their sword-fight (not overly convincing it must be said) is inter-cut with shots of dead bodies on the battlefield and it’s noticeable that Hal’s killing thrust isn’t seen. Was it deemed too violent for the times or did the camera just miss it?
Director Michael Hayes elects to end the episode on the battlefield dead, this time with snow overlaid, which is quite an effective ending. Henry IV Part One has never been a favourite play of mine and this adaptation, whilst solid enough, hasn’t really changed my opinion on it, but it’s well worth watching for Connery and Hardy.
Next Up – Episode Five – The New Conspiracy