Even for those with no particular taste for the Bard, this recent feature-film version of Shakespeare’s history play will seem as accessible as a rousing adventure flick. The movie is a riveting epic about loyalty, courage, betrayal, and regret in the rite of passage of a young man who happens to be a king.
Starring and directed by Irish actor Kenneth Branagh (in his filmmaking debut), this Henry V has a powerfully assertive impact, with virtually every scene both visually arresting and dramatically compelling. While Laurence Olivier’s 1944 film version is constantly aware of its stage origins, the rowdy Branagh uses all the resources of the action film. The pageantry of this production and the exalted language of the work elevate the movie to uncommon heights, and its grimy, mud-caked Agincourt battle scenes literally take it back down to earth.
With his boyish Celtic looks and mercurial tongue, Branagh offers a fresh, seductive portrayal of Henry, and the support-ing cast, including Emma Thompson (his real-life wife), Derek Jacobi, Judi Dench, and Ian Holm, rises to Branagh’s high standards. History has seldom seemed more dramatic. A