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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: June ::
Re: Interpreting Branagh
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1564  Wednesday, 20 June 2001

[1]     From:   Graham Bradshaw <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 20 Jun 2001 02:55:21 +0900
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1547 Re: Interpreting Branagh

[2]     From:   D. J. White <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 19 Jun 2001 18:50:16 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.1547 Re: Interpreting Branagh


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Graham Bradshaw <
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Date:           Wednesday, 20 Jun 2001 02:55:21 +0900
Subject: 12.1547 Re: Interpreting Branagh
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1547 Re: Interpreting Branagh

The discussion of Branagh's treatment of the conspirators scene hasn't
mentioned something I take to be important in the scene.

It's true that the Chorus tells us that the conspirators were
"corrupted" by "the Gilt of France (O guilt indeed)". Yet the play
repeatedly contradicts or complicates what the Chorus says, and in this
case Cambridge insists that "the Gold of France did not seduce": what
the conspirators "intended" was to place Mortimer on the throne--they
are Yorkists.  How convenient, and clever, to find and stage a pretext
for executing them instantly: the last thing Henry wants is a public or
judicial airing of the Yorkist claim.

Branagh concentrates, characteristically, on the "luvvie" aspect,
and--as his screenplay puts it--on the "enormous cost to the king" (not
the conspirators).  Similarly, he has Bardolph executed on screen so
that we can see--you guessed--the "enormous cost to the king" (not
Bardolph). Those who think "Intepreting Branagh" worthwhile might start
with the published screenplays, where his chirpy explanations of the
import or effect of various speeches are breathtakingly naive and
vulgar.

Throughout the film, Branagh's small-voiced delivery is buttressed in
two ways. First, by the soupy sub-Elgarian music which (in the approved
Hollywood fashion) tells the children when and what to feel. Second,
there are all those laughably transparent sequences in which the camera
pans round, as the king speaks, to show how the listeners are all
wide-eyed and lost in fervent, jelly-kneed admiration for King Ken.

Since I continue to think "Henry V" Shakespeare's most underrated play,
I can't see why people take this shallow, callow film so seriously. Let
me quickly add just three more basic objections.

(1) Unexpectedly--so we should wonder why!--the play includes two
amateur historians: the Elizabethan Chorus and the medieval Fluellen.
Although they agree in their take-me-to-your-leader view of history, the
play doesn't, and keeps questioning their loyally royal  "king's-eye"
view.  Of course, if we trust the Chorus we might not even notice how
1.2  confirms that Henry has not been waiting for Canterbury's
imprimatur, and has already claimed the "dukedoms". Similarly, when the
Chorus dismisses the French King's reply as cowardly, he wants to fly
past two matters that might give us pause: Henry has brought his army to
France without even waiting for the French king's reply, and then
dismisses the French king's offer of the "dukedoms" AND marriage to the
French princess. Branagh seems clueless about these historiographical
challenges, and keeps chopping up the Prologues into fragmented
voice-over extracts.

(2) Henry assumes without question that his dynastic interests simply
and miraculously coincide with those of the English people--like the
"low" or (Henry's word) "vile" Michael Williams.  The play doesn't
assume that, but Shakespeare then has to invent, and name, low
characters like Williams or Pistol, because such people never figure in
the chronicles. The chronicles, like the Chorus, are concerned with the
doings of the high and mighty, not the low; when the Chorus is
commenting on or apologising for the play, he never once acknowledges
the existence of the low characters. Branagh never seems to have asked
why the various low characters are in the play. For example, his film
makes no sense at all of Pistol.

(3) Shakespeare could write stirring battle scenes when he wanted, but
in this play he doesn't. There is no battle scene!! Indeed there are
only two scenes in which blood is shed onstage, and they are decidedly
unheroic. In the first, Henry gives the order to cut the throats of
unarmed French prisoners (who are on stage, so some pigs' blood would be
needed). In the second,  Fluellen breaks Pistol's head with an English
cudgel (not a leek): Pistol is bleeding and scarred.  Branagh cuts such
things (observing that 5.1 isn't "funny"), and indeed cuts more than
half the text, while interpolating his own battle scene and its
insufferably extended, sentimental climax, when he carries the dead Boy
across the battlefield-- so that we can once again see the "enormous
cost" to the King (not the corpses) as the music swells. Like Julie
Andrews' hills,  this battlefield's alive, to the sound of mucus.

When Branagh is knighted it should be for services to the monarchy, not
Shakespeare.

Graham Bradshaw

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           D. J. White <
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Date:           Tuesday, 19 Jun 2001 18:50:16 -0500
Subject: 12.1547 Re: Interpreting Branagh
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.1547 Re: Interpreting Branagh

I agree that Branagh's portrayal of Henry is sympathetic, reflecting his
sense of political and personal betrayal.  But by bookending the scene
with scenes reporting Falstaff's illness and death, Shakespeare seems to
suggest the irony of Henry's indignation, given his own skill in
betraying friends.  I don't think the film leads the viewer to that
irony.

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