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BWW Review: THE HOLLOW CROWN - PARTS FOUR, FIVE AND SIX, BritBoxBWW will review the multi-award winning BBC Shakespearean series, The Hollow Crown, over the next three weeks, one episode per day, starting with Ben Whishaw's Richard II and finishing, 19 days later, with Benedict Cumberbatch's Richard III.

Alexei Sayle once said that you can always spot a Shakespearean joke because no one's laughing. Few aspects of theatre are as subjective as humour and none ebbs and flows as much with the vagaries of fashionable tastes either. More of that, er..., anon.

Henry IV is older and world-weary with his seized crown sitting no more easily than when we left him staring aghast at the body of his predecessor. He has troubles aplenty within his kingdom and within his court, the brow furrowed by more than just his years. The Welsh and Scots are stirring, past favourites feel slighted and minded to join them, and his son, Prince Hal, is boozing and whoring because, well, because he can.

Richard Eyre takes over from Rupert Goold as director / adaptor and much of the pace that so energised previous episodes is dissipated in endless scenes that reminded me of Oliver! (alas shorn of the songs and the wit). There's some laughably bad CGI (even for its time) and unfortunate voiceover soliloquys, the gravity of which have been fatally undercut by too many Youtube clips.

Things perk up with the Battle of Shrewsbury (though it's no Battle of the Bastards GoT fans) but it's taken so long to get there that you've almost forgotten the stakes.

The acting is a bit of a mixed bag. Jeremy Irons is at his best when skewering his son and lamenting the Harry he'd prefer as heir (Percy / Hotspur), with just a hint that it's all a ruse to fire up Prince Hal to take on his rival for his father's affections when the time comes. Tom Hiddleston (Hal), though he spends far too much time wearing a rictus indulgent smile at the antics of his entourage, is splendid in combat and when called upon to display cunning and not Bullingdonish thuggery. Joe Armstrong dials up the alpha male indignation to 11 and you're left wondering what anyone sees in his hothead Hotspur.

Falstaff, though, Falstaff... Such a favourite back in the day, he's the epitome of entitlement here, a yobbish, charmless drunk whose only redeeming qualities come when that status is threatened and the swagger and deceit give way to an old man's fear of death. It doesn't help that Simon Russell Beale plays him as broad as would Sid James, with a side order of Charlie Hawtrey's camp when required. It was all I could do not to fast-forward past his scenes and get back to the wars.

After all, if I want to spend time with unlovable rogues, there's one on television at 5pm every night just now.

The Hollow Crown is available for streaming on BritBox

Previous episode reviews are available here.

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From This Author Gary Naylor