Henry V (1989)

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Director: Kenneth Branagh

Writer: William Shakespeare (play), Kenneth Branagh (screenplay)

Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Paul Scofield, Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi, Ian Holm, Richard Briers, Brian Blessed, Christian Bale, Danny Webb, Robbie, Coltrane

Synopsis: A triumphant, audacious film, Henry V marked an auspicious beginning for the career of director and star Kenneth Branagh. Somber, gray, and bearing none of the jingoistic glory of Laurence Olivier's 1944 version, Branagh's Henry is a muddy, bloody affair more interested in the complexities of the king himself than in his historic defeat of the French.

As such, the film is largely composed of close-ups of its characters, rather than wide angle shots emphasizing the grandly political scale of the events at hand. The only shot of the latter nature is the remarkable 8-minute tracking sequence that follows a blood- and mud-spattered Henry across the field of Agincourt, carrying a dead boy over his shoulder and picking his way through the countless corpses. Virtuoso tracking shots aside, Henry V's strength rests on Branagh and Company's ability to make a much-told Shakespeare story seem fresh and innovative.

What impresses above all else are the film's emotional inlets, from Henry's rousing, poignant St. Crispin's Day speech to Mistress Quickly's (Judi Dench) eulogy for the dead Falstaff. A film endowed with both tremendous soul and Branagh's own assurance, Henry V is an exhilarating, sobering experience from beginning to end.


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