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BWW Review: THE HOLLOW CROWN - HENRY VI: FRANCE AND REBELLION, BritBoxBWW is reviewing the multi-award winning BBC Shakespearean series, The Hollow Crown, starting with Ben Whishaw's Richard II and finishing with Benedict Cumberbatch's Richard III.

Rather like George RR Martin himself, adaptors Ben Power and Dominic Cooke looked at Henry VI Parts I, II and III and thought, "We can go full Game of Thrones here." They don't quite, as they cut a few subplots opting to focus on the manoeuvring for political power, the blood and thunder of battle and the price paid by both winners and losers. They even find time for a bit of sex too.

Henry VI has lost his father's England's in France and his own court has split into factions, wearing white or red roses to indicate their support for the Houses of Lancaster or York. His Lord Protector, the Duke of Gloucester, has become used to pulling the strings, an arrangement that suits the somewhat disengaged King, but does not suit his very much engaged Queen. Meanwhile the Duke of York eyes a path to the throne and the Earl of Somerset schemes, from the Queen's bedchamber, planning the removal of both impediments to his control of the Crown.

Soon we're knee deep in French mud and English blood. This is brutal stuff, the sheer proximity of medieval warfare, with its clashing of metal on metal, taking you into some awful places. None more so than the burning at the stake of Joan of Arc, Shakey throwing a little mythmaking to the French for good measure.

But this film is all about a central concern of Shakespeare, one that resonates across the centuries - England's weakness when it stands divided. Tom Sturridge judges his Henry perfectly - he has the look and vocabulary of a romantic poet , a religious man whose instinct is to forgive and seek opportunities for redemption. Sturridge could easily give us little more than a milquetoast Kurt Cobain, but he retains too much dignity for that - convincing as a good man in a bad world.

Ben Miles has a lot of fun with his Somerset, finding the right look to express his boundless disdain for all except those useful to his vaulting ambition. As with Sturridge, caricature is never far away, but he keeps it a sword's length distant.

Rather more physical, Adrian Dunbar swaggers about as York, all overweening testosterone with just enough cunning to see when to pass on a round of bidding in the poker game of politics. Hugh Bonneville doesn't quite catch as the Lord Protector, overcooking the bumbling and surprise at just how ruthless these obviously ruthless man can be and overdoing his failing to see that the Queen was never going to lose in an arm wrestle with his wife. He has the mien of an overmatched home counties accountant, when he should be more of an old school sales director outfoxed by the new kids on the block.

You can wait a long time for a decent role in the History Plays, so Sophie Okonedo seizes her Queen Margaret and finds her voice in more senses than one, the astonishment filling the hall as she speaks for her King. She may be a little old for the part, but that just gives her more authority as she prepares to defend her own in a Kingdom descending into civil war.

The Hollow Crown is available for streaming on BritBox

Previous episode reviews are available here.

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From This Author Gary Naylor