The real-life Henry V was the son of King Henry IV of England and succeeded him to the throne in 1413. The view of him as a very wild young man is based on William Shakespeare's fiction and not on real life; he fought against rebels and at the age of 16 was hit in the face by an arrow and wounded. He also helped in government due to his father's frail health.

Not long after becoming king, he decided to renew the Hundred Years War which his great-grandfather Edward III had started over the English kings' claim to the throne of France. The English forces won the battle of Agincourt and laid waste to a large area of northern France. When he reached the outside of Paris, the French were willing to make a peace settlement; at this Treaty of Troyes, Henry became heir to the throne of France rather than the son of the current French king. Henry married the French princess Catherine on 2 June 1420.

What Henry wanted to do next was lead a Crusade to reconquer Jerusalem from the Muslims, but he fell ill with dysentery while still in France and died on 31 August 1422 at the age of 35. He was succeeded by his eight-month-old son Henry VI.

Henry V
Or: If Thou Dost Need Me, I Shalt Be in Mine Trailer

Released in 1989, this cinematic version of William Shakespeare's play is without doubt one of the best ever to give up the thrust stage for the silver screen. For those of you to whom this sort of thing matters, Kenneth Branagh got Best Actor and Best Director Academy Award nominations for it.

A lot of people hate poor Ken, but even they ought to give this one a chance. It's brilliant.

Bear with me for the cast list--I'm going to put down a lot, as there are many amazing actors in this film!

Dramatis Personae

As you can see-that's a quality cast, and not all of them.

Do Not Banish a Thief

Branagh obviously took his material from a very great source--three, in fact. This version of Henry V benefited from a little cut-and-paste, as most adaptations do, but Branagh reached way back into Henry IV, Parts I and II and pulled out a little Falstaff--who doesn't actually appear in the play of Henry V.

In the roles of the Lord Chamberlain and Master of the Revels were Renaissance Films and the BBC, with US distribution by the Samuel Goldwyn Company.

Can E2 Contain the Vasty Fields of France?

Henry V meant to do so, as did his kingly predecessors for the last hundred years. The film is set near the end of the Hundred Years' War between England and France, with the former staking one more in long series of claims on the latter's throne. As Henry says, 'no King of England, if not King of France!', and that really rather sums up the story. I'll lay down the very general overview, for the value in this film--as with many a remake--is in how it's done.

We begin in England, with a discussion of the politics behind the conflict, during which Henry resolves to make war on France. He is betrayed by a few of his nobles, who get their come-uppance in a such a way that you wish a few people would betray you just so you could deliver the same speeches.

As the troops gather, we have scenes with Mistress Quickly, Pistol, Bardolph, and Nym, a little bit of sadness, and a little bit of hope.

The troops take Harfleur in France, during which we get that rousing once more unto the breach, dear friends number, before they proceed to Calais.

As the battles and marches go one, Henry's troops dwindle in number to wounds and dysentery, and begin to lose hope. Periodically, they are greeted by a confident French herald, Montjoy, who delivers the Dauphin's smarminess with full force and great aplomb.

Agincourt is the set-piece of the film, a great battle greatly scored, with swords, shields, mud, hero-shots, defiance, and everything you'd want in a great victory. It is of course preceded by the St. Crispin's Day monologue, of the most famous in all of Shakespeare.

If it doesn't inspire you, than I'm just sorry. It certainly makes me want to lead an army. Or at least play someone leading an army. Probably the latter.

Following the delivery of terms--hope I didn't spoil the ending for you, there. The English did win--Henry meets Kate, daughter of the French King, and there's a charming little scene of wooing in broken English and French, which results in their coming to terms of their own.

Please realize that I've left a great deal out--many fantastic scenes of first-rate acting, and just plain excellence.

Blunt Weapons

No film's perfect, and there are flaws in this film, but they come few and far between. The relationship between Henry and Katherine at the end seems played too lightly for its significance--but Branagh has always placed humor in his Shakespeare, often where it wouldn't necessarily seem to belong.

Purists might not care for the textual editing of the original, and the inclusion of scenes from other plays in the film.

Others may find the tone generally disagreeable. Branagh leaves no doubt about who the bad guys are, and it's England all the way. Shakespeare wrote glory into this episode of English history, and the film runs with it at top speed.


So many. So very, very many. The Chorus opens the film literally from behind the scenes--delivering his monologue from among lights, stands, and the reverse sides of flats. The speech itself mentions a 'wooden o', a reference to the theatre in which the play was originally performed, as so the conceit seems well played in a cinematic context.

The acting is all first-rate. Branagh is nearly in danger of having his limelight taken by Brian Blessed, who seems he should be the real King of England even now. Watch for him during the scenes in which the treasonous nobles are revealed, and for his appearance before the King of France. They're extraordinary.

As is everyone else. No one delivers a weak performance.

Stylistically, the word for this film is confidence. Branagh really seems to have control, and he exercises it with strength. The blocking, camera direction, art direction--all are incredibly strong.

Love the score. In the aftermath of Agincourt, the victors start singing Non nobis, Domine , and it's absolutely beautiful (the composer, Patrick Doyle, plays the role of Court in the film and is the first to start singing on the battlefield).

There is a poignant twinge of foreboding in the narrator's closing lines, hearkening to Henry's untimely death and the ultimate unraveling of his triumphs during the reign of his son, Henry VI, under whom nearly all of England's gains in France were lost.


If you're in a Shakespearean mood, and are looking for a few familiar lines, excellently delivered monologues, and a little inspiration, this movie will satisfy.

You WILL hum Non nobis, Domine for days afterward.

Tennis balls to:

For the Quest

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