An Age Of Kings – Episode Four – The Road To Shrewsbury (Henry IV Part One)

hal

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

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An Age Of Kings – Episode Three – Rebellion from the North (Henry IV Part One)

Hotspur (Sean Connery)
Hotspur (Sean Connery)

Episodes three and four of An Age of Kings contains virtually all of Henry IV Part One.  As episode three opens, we see that Henry IV (Tom Fleming) is still unsettled from the death of Richard II.  And a crusade to the Holy Land has to be postponed when trouble flares with Scotland and Wales.

The Percy family who helped him to the throne are becoming increasingly discontent, particularly Harry Percy (Hotspur), played by Sean Connery.  To add to Henry’s woes, his son Hal (Robert Hardy) is content to idle his time away in the taverns, consorting with the likes of Sir John Falstaff (Frank Pettineill).  But with Hotspur leading a rebellion against the King, Hal has to put aside his wastrel living and the two are fated to meet on the field of battle.

The opening line of the play is Henry’s “So shaken as we are, so wan with care” and this seems to be the case as Henry appears visibly aged and staggers when leaving at the end of Act One Scene One, holding onto his chair for support. His age and infirmity contrast with the youth and vigor of both Hotspur and Hal.

Rebellion from the North is driven by the performances of Connery and Hardy. Although he was not then, and never became, an experienced Shakespearean actor, Connery isn’t out of place here – as his charisma shines through.  He has several key moments in this episode such as when he confronts the King.  There’s an interesting shot as Hotspur walks around the table and blocks the King from our view. Given the somewhat frantic nature of live performance, this could be an error or it may have been an intentional move. His reply to Henry’s accusation that he failed to hand over the majority of the prisoners captured in a recent squirsish is a highlight of Connery’s performance.

My liege, I did deny no prisoners.
But I remember, when the fight was done,
When I was dry with rage and extreme toil,
Breathless and faint, leaning upon my sword,
Came there a certain lord, neat, and trimly dress’d,
Fresh as a bridegroom; and his chin new reap’d
Show’d like a stubble-land at harvest-home;
He was perfumed like a milliner;
And ‘twixt his finger and his thumb he held
A pouncet-box, which ever and anon
He gave his nose and took’t away again;
Who therewith angry, when it next came there,
Took it in snuff; and still he smiled and talk’d,
And as the soldiers bore dead bodies by,
He call’d them untaught knaves, unmannerly,
To bring a slovenly unhandsome corse
Betwixt the wind and his nobility.
With many holiday and lady terms
He question’d me; amongst the rest, demanded
My prisoners in your majesty’s behalf.

Whilst Hotspur dreams of conquest, young Prince Hal seems to have no further ambitions at the start of the play than purely pleasurable ones.  Hardy is effective as the wastrel Prince, although his performance does undercut the text from time to time as he already seems to have grown tired of his dissolute life and the company he’s been keeping.  Pettingell’s Falstaff is presented less as a close confident and more as a convenient crony since Hal is already biding the time when he will return to his father’s side.

If all the year were playing holidays,
To sport would be as tedious as to work;
But when they seldom come, they wish’d for come,
And nothing pleaseth but rare accidents.
So, when this loose behavior I throw off
And pay the debt I never promised,
By how much better than my word I am,
By so much shall I falsify men’s hopes;
And like bright metal on a sullen ground,
My reformation, glittering o’er my fault,
Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes
Than that which hath no foil to set it off.
I’ll so offend, to make offence a skill;
Redeeming time when men think least I will.

If Frank Pettingell is a slightly disappointing Falstaff (he lacks charm and humour and comes over as something of a bore), then Sean Connery and Robert Hardy are more than adequate compensation.  Running for just under 80 minutes, the episode ends at Act Two, which leads us onto the battlefield.

Next Up – Episode Four – The Road to Shrewsbury