(Review originally written at 8 March 2009)

No doubt Laurence Olivier must have been real proud of this project. It's really 'his' movie, since he directed, produced as well as played the main lead. It actually earned him a special Honary Award during that year's Academy Awards 'for his outstanding achievement as actor, producer and director in bringing 'Henry V' to the screen'.

It's a real Shakespeare movie, so expect lots of stagy looking settings and long dialog. Laurence Olivier however knows to bring it in a good and original way and actually manages to use it's 'stagy' elements to the movie its own advantage.

As an historical movie, concerning mostly the battle of Agincourt, I don't feel the movie is being completely accurate. The movie is a bit too patriotic by purely picking the British side, by showing how noble and brave they all were. It's presented as if Henry V willingly and fully knowingly walked into about, against a much bigger French force. Reason why the British won the battle of Agincourt was because of the supremacy of their longbows and the fact that the French completely underestimated them and made some tactical blunders during the battle. I don't really see much of that back in this movie. Also some of the cruelties being committed by the British and the mistakes they made during the campaign are simply not shown or mentioned in the movie really. The movie actually got financed by the British government, thinking that it would be a good moral boost for the English citizens and those fighting abroad, during WW II. So Shakespeare used as propaganda, how odd is that? This is not really something uncommon by the way. 'Old' movies often were very black & white with its themes. So good was being entirely good and bad totally bad. It's also not really something that troubled me too much but by todays standards its too simple and too outdated for the present movie norms.

Also for a movie about the 'chronicle history of King Henry V' the story focuses surprisingly little on the aspects of Henry V's life before and also certainly after the battle of Agincourt. The story ends at the peak of his life. But of course thing to blame for that is the movie its source, William Shakespeare's play, from 1600.

It's pretty nice that this is a 1944 movie that got shot entirely in color (also much have been one of the reasons for its high budget though). It's actually the first ever Shakespeare movie to be made entirely in color. Still I feel that it would had suited the movie and its story better if it had been done in black & white. It would had suited the acting performances and the historical settings and characters all better.

It's not like I hated this movie, of course not- far from it, but I don't want to sound all praising about it either. It's a good movie that however is not without its flaws and perhaps would had been a better one had it been made a decade earlier, at the time Laurence Olivier was playing the character on stage already. So not during WW II and not in color.

But there is simply no denying it that this is such a well made and handled movie. Olivier did well and came to some creative solutions but by staying as much to the original source as possible, despite its undeniable WW II influences.

The movie is perhaps at its best during the famous battle but also its dialog provide the movie with some real fireworks. A Shakespeare movie of course always has some amazing and often memorable dialog, especially when it remains so faithful to its source as this movie did. It of course also helps that the lines are being delivered by some real fine and capable actors. Laurence Olivier was an actor that simply lived and breathed Shakespeare throughout his career.

A must-see for the fans of Shakespeare.


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About Frank Veenstra

Watches movies...writes about them...and that's it for now.
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