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BWW Review: THE HOLLOW CROWN - PARTS SEVEN AND EIGHT, BritBox BWW 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.

The King and Falstaff are old, their powers fading, as the Prince, who much prefers the company of the latter to the former, looks towards a future in which he must jump one way or the other.

There are few compromises a king can make in a state threatened by enemies within and without, something Hal's younger brother John understands when ruthlessly suppressing rebellion through deception and destruction. His father noted that efficiency with a slight chill no doubt.

Perhaps the key moment for Hal comes when he overhears Falstaff, a man he knows to be foolish but no fool, speak of him not with his default joshing humour, but with real contempt. That mirror held up to a soul he knows to be tainted, stiffens the future king to make good on thoughts we already knew were bubbling inside him, and accept his responsibilities.

Jeremy Irons captures a mighty man's hopelessness in the face of age overcoming his mind and body, particularly when he allows his anger at Hal's literal seizing of the crown to abate, knowing that any question over the succession would open a door to the ruthless second son and split the kingdom he had spent his life holding together.

Tom Hiddlestone, like Hal himself, grows into his destiny, the back straightening, the eyes narrowing and, when court or courtesan are presented as a stark choice, brutally rejecting his erstwhile playmates in favour of the necessities of statecraft. His musing in his first soliloquy that his embracing of his regal duties after so much time in the gutter would convince doubters all the more, appears vindicated in the attitude of the Lord Chief Justice (a showstealing cameo from the incomparable Geoffrey Palmer).

These closing episodes are much more Simon Russell Beale's to own, the mumbling grotesque charisma vacuum of earlier scenes giving way to a pathetic, gouty man left only fooling himself and his ragtag band of brothers. Beale's and director-adaptor, Richard Eyre's take on Falstaff irritated me no end in Henry IV Part One, but the desperation to run (literally and metaphorically) without the wherewithal to do so, works in this take on one of Shakespeare's most enduring characters. The scenes back in East Cheap, as the now King Henry V, moves against Mistress Quickly and Doll Tearsheet, those most let down by Falstaff's duplicity, inoculate us against any sentimentality when the fall comes.

Perhaps Eyre drew the short straw. The politics of Henry IV Parts One and Two feels too prequelly, mere skirmishes before the epic events of Henry V to come. The farcical elements lack the zip and empathy that a 21st century audience demands and, with much of the dialogue spoken against a backdrop of a noisy tavern, some of it is just lost due to BritBox's unforgivable lack of subtitles.

That said, we know we've got a blockbuster coming next!

The Hollow Crown is available for streaming on BritBox

Previous episode reviews are available here.

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