The Hollow Crown – last chance to catch these four Shakespeare histories, for free


Rory Kinnear’s Bolingbroke should get more love.

The Shakespeare-deniers, of course, say the upstart from Stratford could not have written the plays, that it must have been some nobleman in Elizabeth’s court – how, they ask, would a glover’s son know the way courtiers and kings converse at court? The obvious answer, of course, is that he didn’t. He made it up out of his head. Historians agree that the royal interactions don’t ring true. Now, however, this is the way we imagine kings and queen should speak. William Shakespeare shaped our reality.  Check it out: the BBC is giving you an excellent opportunity to revel in the matchless histories of Shakespeare with The Hollow Crown, which includes Richard II, Henry IV, Part 1, Henry IV, Part 2, and Henry V.  (Follow links I’ve provided.)

A lot of rubbish has been written about the series already.  Even esteemed places like the New York Times don’t seem to know how to write about Shakespeare anymore (here and here) – any moment I expect them to begin complaining about how hard the language is.  Pretty much all of them, however, agree that this is a terrific, must-see series. Ben Whishaw has been praised for his Richard II, though I find it over-the-top, and Rory Kinnear‘s Bolingbroke underrated (see Clip #2). David Suchet (a.k.a. Hercule Poirot) is at Bolingbroke’s left, by the way, another good performance. Clip #3 features Patrick Stewart‘s John of Gaunt. Clip #4 Jeremy Irons as Henry IV. Clip #5 features Simon Russell Beale as Falstaff. And the final clip is Tom Hiddleston‘s Henry V.

It’s been at least a year or two since I’ve seen Shakespeare performed. The ear craves it. Tease your own with the excerpts, below. The full videos are available for listening at for a limited time only. Take advantage of the opportunity.  Please. You owe it to yourself.

Postscript on 1/13:  I broke down and bought the DVDs on Amazon. Under $30.  Free shipping with a Prime account.  How could I forbid myself this little indulgence?

1.  Trailer for the series.

2.   Richard II  (A few seconds of “Great Performances” la-di-da at the beginning. It’s only a few seconds, really…)

3.   Richard II

Henry IV, Part 1

Henry IV, Part 2

Henry V

Tags: , , , , ,

9 Responses to “The Hollow Crown – last chance to catch these four Shakespeare histories, for free”

  1. Dwight Says:

    Thanks so much! I’ve been so cocooned lately I didn’t know anything about this. (You might want to check your PBS link)

    I’ll know what I’m doing this week. Thanks again.

  2. Cynthia Haven Says:

    Dwight, I’ve done better than that. I’ve added links for each of the plays, as well as corrected the faulty link. Let me know what you think. They’ve made some script cuts I wouldn’t have wished … but then, they always do. I can quibble, but it’s a great series.

  3. CYNTHIA Says:

    Interesting review. I also had mixed feeling re Ben Wishaw’s performance in Richard 11.Whilst admiring its watch-ability my overall feeling was that it created an imbalance in the overall production. Rory Kinnear,an intelligent subtle actor was so overshadowed that much of the purpose of his role was lost. The play itself lost momentum when Wishaw was not on screen and much of the interaction felt laboured. Patrick Stewart was the only other actor who seemed able to rise above Mr.Wishaw’s performance. The fault does not lie with the actor but with the director who unlike the other four episodes chose to frame it in a theatrical format with Richard 11 as the main focus.
    In contrast the Henry’s seemed more grounded in reality and character interaction. All the performances were excellent with the overall effect that it was ensemble acting as opposed to a star turn .I did however find the interaction between the leads as played by Jeremy Irons. Simon Russell Beale and Tom Hiddleston very moving in Henry IV very moving and dramatic which greatly added to the accessibility of the language.

    The final play Henry Vth benefitted from a less heroic more thoughtful performance which certainly gave me a greater awareness of the language. It also gave the lesser characters a chance to shine which gave the play a balance despite the loss of some key scenes. The last three plays reawakened my interest Shakespeare and the theatre and I have followed the series up with both love performances and some wonderful broadcasts from the Globe. That in itself cannot be bad

  4. CYNTHIA Says:

    my apologies for the spelling and grammar mistakes in the above. I forgot to proof read it.

  5. Cynthia Haven Says:

    Well, my fellow Cynthia, we agree but for different reasons. I found Wishaw’s determinedly gay interpretation distracting from the whole – so much so that you don’t remember much else about him – in short, a caricature. He is vacillating, effete, and self-indulgent when he’s in power, waspish and mean-spirited when challenged, and petulant and weepy in defeat. I wanted more heroism and strength at the sticking-point, not less, to balance against a strong and subtle Bolingbroke. I found him a bit annoying at the end, when he should be mesmerizing me.

    You and I seem to be the only ones in the whole wide dreaming world to find fault with this performance.

    I favored Henry IV, Part 1, among the four. Jeremy Irons is probably why. Although I’ve appreciated him as an actor before, I’ve never really cared for him. I think this is the best I’ve ever seen him, it’s a “wow.” I warmed to Hiddleston, but not enough to like this Henry V over Branagh’s. Not entirely, anyway. It’s hard to get over Emma Thompson as the Katherine of France – she was terrific. I’ve never liked Falstaff much – Queen Elizabeth I and I disagree on that – but Beale does make a fine, intelligent one. This is the first time I’ve understood the renunciation of Falstaff – or more precisely, truly felt why it must be so.


  6. Dwight Says:

    OK, almost finished with Richard II…trying to go in order of what will expire first (my connection dies near the end of Act IV). I’m almost too embarrassed to say this is my first exposure to Richard II. I’ve have not seen it or read it before last week, but I’m attempting to read it while it was being performed in order to see what was excised. Unfortunately the site is keeping me from viewing the final act, but a few comments…

    “Determinedly gay”? I think we run in different circles. Effete, beta, whatever…yes. Vacillating, no. But I understand the want of “more”…Richard seems to strengthen during the play. Although I reserve judgment on the end part, whether it’s mesmerizing of boring until I actually can access the footage. I was disappointed in some of the parts excised–many were focused on the actual politics, which to me provides the crucial framework of the play. It’s almost part of a literary history lessons since parts of the play are echoed and refined in Hamlet, Lear, Henry V, and others. But something about this speaks to me more because of the politics…maybe because of Boleslaw Prus’ novel “Pharaoh.” (Which I owe it to that author to post, even though I lost all my notes when my computer died.)

    Back to the point, as if I had one… I’m not sure Richard should be mesmerizing. You have a struggle between the leader of men and the God-anointed leader of men (not a small difference) and this is what you get. I thought given what they had to work with in the overall production the final product was good (dependent on the all-important Act V, whenever I will get to see it).

  7. Cynthia Haven Says:

    Well, perhaps my words were ill-chosen, Dwight. By “determinedly” I meant he was playing to a stereotype, and I couldn’t figure out why – and the rest of the production seemed to lean into it (e.g., flesh colored stockings and shirts, gauzy fabrics, etc.), so it may have been the director’s call. (I could have done without the luridly sexual St. Sebastian imagery, too.) As for vacillation, see clip above, though it may not be representative. In the end, I thought this Richard II was rather charmless. So Bolingbroke is almost rolling his eyes and restraining himself at R2’s rabbiting on, as in the scene above, rather than awed by his poetry. Richard II should be coming into his own not in kingship but in defeat; through poetry, he grows into a tragic figure. Instead I feel this R2 is pitiful at best, whiny at worst.

    Point taken in your last paragraph. But he has so much dialogue that it *ought* to hold us, and so much of the text is gorgeous that, by gum, it *ought* to mesmerize us. It doesn’t.

    Check back in if you ever get to see Act V. The fun, I think, is that I couldn’t imagine a better Henry IV than Kinnear, and wondered why they didn’t use him for “Henry IV.” Then Jeremy Irons takes the role, and is brilliant in a completely different way, so that I couldn’t imagine anyone else performing the role except him.

  8. Dwight Says:

    Ah, once again a thank you for the links. I just finished Pt 2 of Henry IV. Yes, Irons is a completely different Henry. It would have been fun to see Kinnear, but I imagine they felt they had to change for aging purposes. Makeup only goes so far. And of course the irony of the Henry IV plays is that Henry’s role is limited. I thoroughly enjoyed them and probably would not have watched them if they hadn’t been free, so again a note of thanks for bringing attention to the free streaming. On to the last one.

  9. Cynthia Haven Says:

    Good to see you back, Dwight! So tell us more what you think, when you have a chance.