The First Part of King Henry the Sixt (1983)
This movie is the first part of a tetrology spanning roughly 14 hours, I was pretty nervous about how this was all going to go.
I can't say I loved this, but it certainly helps the slow burn of the four movies. I'll explain. Jane Howell directs the four movies, and she makes it a slow decent into hell over their span. This particular film has a very tacky look to it. None of the characters look that tough even though many are hardened warriors, and the set is decorated in a lot of pastel colors. It almost feels a bit like a spoof, but the whole problem is that it reads the play word for word (at least as far as I can tell), making the whole thing just feel kind of incongruous. This movie makes its sequels pay off to great effect (more on that as I get a bit further along in these reviews), but unfortunately this is the first one I watched and didn't realize that. Without much idea of what was coming, it was a little bit of rough sledding for the majority of this.
Peter Benson plays the title role in the film, and presents the meek character that the story is about pretty well. This particular movie however, is at it's best in its scenes with Joan La Pucelle, played wonderfully by Mike Leigh regular Brenda Blethyn, and Lord Talbot, played by Trevor Peacock. Julia Foster plays Margaret, and is very worth keeping an eye on here, as her character is quite instrumental in later parts.
I got to say as well that in reading the three parts that make up King Henry the Sixth, this was my least favorite. In the upcoming parts, I felt a little bit more entrenched in the story. Guessing at the time this play was made, the characters in it and the historical background of the War of Roses were better known. I found myself going to Wikipedia here and there to play catch up. Once you are a third of the way though, it certainly gets easier. The Second Part of King Henry the Sixt (1983)
The second portion of this play is a marked improvement over the first, if not nearly as action filled. This part, more than the other than the other two, deals with all the in-fighting between the various players under King Henry's rule.
One notices that everything feels a little bit more lived in and worn down in this second part. While Henry looks much the same, all our supporting characters have gotten a little bit more rugged and steely eyed. The most jarring example is in Bernard Hill's York. It feels kind of silly to me that I buy a character's strength so much more when he sports a five o'clock shadow (sort of like the old joke about the "ugly" girl taking off her glasses and taking her hair out of a ponytail), but it isn't just that I suppose. It's displayed throughout his mannerisms and idiosyncrasies through much of this film. York is arguably as much the lead in this play as much as Henry, and I was concerned I just won't buy in after the first part. Glad that a few tweaks had such a stong effect. Also elevating her chill factor and stepping up her game big time for part 2 is Queen Margaret, played by Julia Foster. Had I not read the play, it would still be pretty apparent to me who was going to make it a long ways in this story and who was not going to. Director Jane Howell practically marks the characters that aren't going to be with us all that much longer. Some of them still just seem to have that "Part 1" look to them, and it just isn't their world anymore.
I was considering not doing this whole marathon after the first part, as this BBC series is the only DVD version I can find of a few of Shakespeare's plays, and I didn't want to really do the project if they were all going to be like that one. Happy to say that the second part "set the hook" for me. At the same time, my appreciation for the first part went up quite a bit too. I'm sure I would like it more now, realizing what Howell is doing as a whole. The Third Part of King Henry the Sixt (1983)
The third part of this play is mostly an all out war, and this adaptation does a wonderful job accommodating.
It had done this to a very small degree in the previous two parts, but this one really highlights a couple of one on one battles between the characters. It really gets pretty intense when the movie shifts into this "Mortal Kombat" like mode, getting away from that terrific dialogue for a few interludes just to watch some characters whack away on each other with swords. It's good fighting too! I figured the format of this BBC series might make it look a little weak but fortunately that isn't the case here. Oengus MacNamara as young Clifford and Mark Wing Davey as the Earl of Warwick stood out in particular for their intensity.
Ron Cook steps into this one as Richard, Duke of Gloucester. It's a really fun supporting performance that made me eager to see what he would do with the lead role. Peter Benson is good once again in this one as well, particularly in the many long monologues he has to go through, pleading for resolution to all the conflict as everything falls apart.
A very fitting cap to the King Henry the Sixth narrative. I've got a ton of reading to do but from what I can tell this is one of his least loved plays, and that has me pretty excited for what is to come. Certainly wouldn't mind something considerably slimmer, as this story took up roughly 1/12th of the page count in the Barnes and Noble book mentioned in the first post. Perhaps why so little actually exists in the realm of film adapting it? Seems right for an HBO miniseries or something.