The Hollow Crown S01E01; Richard II (2012), Rupert Goold (director)

Daniel J. Rowe 

The Hollow Crown series kicks off the tetralogy with a bang on the backs of incredible acting talent, savvy directing and an overall appreciation of just how great the histories of William Shakespeare can be.


 

It has long been a question tossed around in the vaunted halls of the Bard Brawl: Why doesn’t anyone produce Shakespeare’s histories?

It seems the only ones who appreciate the brilliance of the history plays are certain medieval re-creation societies, monarchy scholars or the basketball and hockey fans who mistake the Kings in the titles for the sports franchises in LA and Sacramento (though who in their right mind is supporting the Sacramento Kings these days? Am I right?)

The Hollow Crown series answers the question with an exclamation point that looks a lot like an bullet hole. The tetralogy of Richard II, Henry IV part I and II, and Henry V is produced with style, substance and power.

This humble brawler gives his official thank you to whoever pitched the idea first and second to those involved with the project.

Rupert Goold directs Richard II, the first episode in the series, and dang is it good.

Ben Whishaw plays the arrogant, naive, and ultimately tragic king, who first sits comfortable on the throne in glory and pomp, and then laments his kingdom’s passing into the hands of his cousin Henry Bolingbroke (Rory Kinnear).

I know many of you are asking, “why would we ever need more out of Richard II than what the Bard Brawl has already offered us?” To answer: I know, I know, but to watch simply adds to the overall genius of the Bard Brawl’s audio podcasts. That’s all.

Goold’s episode is fantastic.

The performances in the episode are fantastic.

The sets, scenery and style are all, yep, fantastic.

The actors from the leads all the way down to the Gardener (David Bradley), who for some reason gets lead billing, leave no opportunity to show their quality unchecked. The opening scenes between Richard, Bolingbroke and Thomas Mowbray (James Purefoy) can be really confusing and a little boring. It’s hard to understand what the offence is (CCCCEO Eric Jean explains the whole thing if you’re still confused). The three actors with subtle movements and clever reactions put the turmoil in the kingdom into such clear focus it makes those that miss some of the language and real politic of late 12th century England understand what’s going on. These are real people fighting for their honour in a system where the king is head and his subjects below.

There’s a beauty bit early where Mowbray is pleading his case before Richard, and Richard turns to his pet monkey and feeds it. Very nice.

Then there’s this scene:

Shivers. If I don’t meet Captain Picard before I or he dies, I will be sad.

Whishaw and Kinnear’s performances are brilliant. As one’s power crumbles and the other’s rises, their personas and gravitas do the opposite. For one actor to pull this effect off is great, for two in the same production is simply brilliant. Actors out there should study these two talents. I just watched Kinnear in Southcliffe, he was great. Whishaw is in one of my favourite series, the Hour.

Whishaw is tasked with three great soliloquies (never an easy task) starting with the following where the series gets its name:

For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings;
How some have been deposed; some slain in war,
Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed;
Some poison’d by their wives: some sleeping kill’d;
All murder’d: for within the hollow crown (BING!)
That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps Death his court and there the antic sits,
Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp,
Allowing him a breath, a little scene,
To monarchize, be fear’d and kill with looks,
Infusing him with self and vain conceit,
As if this flesh which walls about our life,
Were brass impregnable, and humour’d thus
Comes at the last and with a little pin
Bores through his castle wall, and farewell king!
– Act 3, Scene 2

A certain brawler I know loves this monologue and it’s not hard to see why.

Richard’s final scenes as king, and following where he’s forced into advocating the crown are incredible. Goold does not spare on the Christ imagery including a shot of the crownless Richard riding a white donkey to meet the new king Henry IV. It may border on heavy handed symbolism there, but it works (particularly because Whishaw seems destined to be cast as Jesus at some time in the future. It’s the all in the hair and beard).

Oh, and there are heads falling into rivers, and rolling all over the ground for all you gore fans.

As a side note: Al Gore fans might also appreciate the anointed king being supplanted storyline as well. No, tea party members, I am not suggesting your beloved U.S. president is in any way shape or form similar to a king or that dynastic rule full of courts dominated by powerful families is what the land of stars and stripes is destined for. Wait a second…

After watching the first episode of the Hollow Crown, the appetite for more is unavoidable.

Listening to, and reading the histories can be tough. The characters’ names are hard to follow and the plots can be very convoluted. However, that does not mean they are not as great as any of the big gun, seat filling tragedies or comedies.

Richard II is rarely done (although I found this trailer for one that looks crazy interesting). The Hollow Crown episode one was the first time I’d ever seen the play on film or stage, and Goold makes it utterly compelling, incredibly interesting and as powerful as Lear or Othello.

I have, gentle brawlers, become a fan of the Hollow Crown series.

 

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