A Comparison Of Olivier And Branagh's Adaptations Of Henry V

4028 words - 16 pages

A Comparison of Olivier and Branagh's Adaptations of Henry V

Media Comparative Essay: (in the medium of film) concerning the 2 well
known film versions of Shakespeare’s Henry V of Olivier (1944) and
Branagh (1989) in the specific scenes of “A Little Touch of Harry in
the Night” and “The Crispin Crispian Speech”

A comparison of these scenes in the two film versions of Henry V
indicated above in a discussion of all the major cinematic issues in
integrating a story like Shakespeare’s and to include some discussion
of the relative success in conveying to a cinema audience the
director’s message.

“…We few, we happy few, we band of brothers. For he today who sheds
his blood with me shall be my brother. Be he ne'er so vile, this day
shall gentle his condition, and gentlemen in England now abed shall
think themselves accursed they were not here, and hold their manhood’s
cheap whilst any speaks, that fought with us upon St. Crispin's day!”

Henry V Act 4, Scene 3

There is no more stirring summons to arms in all of literature than
Henry's speech to his troops on St. Crispin’s Day. Such words have
been acted and recited to their own epic proportions in the numerous
times they have been performed. How could an extract so uniformly
expressed since its Shakespearean origin, be so modified in conveying
a totally antithetical message? What would be the effect in displaying
such a contrasting portrayal to cinematic thousands rather than
theatrical hundreds?

When 2 films of diverse qualities are constructed, both aimed at the
same theme of Shakespeare’s illustration of Henry V, a natural
comparison is made between them. It is under this comparison we can
contrast the various aspects, which the 2 film versions apply to (with
respect to their individual histories, styles and purposes.)

Olivier’s version (1944) released in wartime delivered a message that
seemed appropriate behind the propaganda cause of WW2. Laurence
Olivier directed and starred in it himself as a patriotic call to the
barricades. Olivier greatly aspired to become one of the greatest
actors of the twentieth century. His attempt in the role of the main
character ‘Henry’ was nothing short of this by delivering an epic
performance in the midst of a gay, colourful depiction of battle.
Kenneth Branagh’s production (1989) attempted greater realism in the
battle scenes and focused more on Henry’s inner conflicts. There was
not as much emphasis on the patriotic elements of the play as in
Olivier’s. Branagh’s film was constructed many years after Olivier’s
predominant original – when it was considered a classic. Olivier
created a total advance in Shakespearean film and gave dawn to colour
filming. A young Branagh would have to direct and act admirably to
stand alongside the preceding version. He would have to successfully

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