It is time once again for me to get too big for my boots and review the work of Shakespeare with the continuation of the Henry VI plays. Obviously the last play ended with the tone set for much political intrigue and turmoil to come, so I was expecting bigger and better things. I got them.
In the second instalment of the trilogy, the action is squarely focused on England and the escalation of political factions and ambitions that go unnoticed and unchecked by the eponymous Henry VI, who is ill-equipped to handle life at court. And it is incredibly entertaining. Personally, I do love political intrigue and uncertain allegiances, as it allows for incredibly complex plots to be hatched as well as equally complex character interactions. This play has it in abundance: first in the combined efforts of court figures to rid themselves of the Duke of Gloster, Lord Protector, in order to forward their individual ambitions, as well as the Duke of York working to make his claim as rightful heir to the throne. Stuck in the middle of all this is Henry himself, a young man more suited to the life of the clergy than that of royalty, and his inexperience and timidness encouraging the more sly and ambitious of his courtiers. It’s a recipe for disaster, and it’s a glorious sight to behold.
In the last Shakespeare review, I mentioned the staging in the BBC adaptation; this is a practice that I will continue in this reviews as well as others to come. With this adaptation, it follows the same format, with one sound stage for all the different locations, but I felt it worked better in this second part, as the scope wasn’t so wide as it was in the first part. The performances were overall a solid affair, with only the occasional moment which seemed suspect which brings to mind mainly Frank Middlemass’ decision to ham it up for Cardinal Beaufort’s death scene; a particularly strong performance would be Julia Foster’s Margaret, who I thought captured her slyness and selfishness perfectly. The only odd decision made in this adaptation that really stuck with me was the incredibly odd editing style in the battle between York and Old Clifford in the fifth act: never before have I seen slow motion shots so strangely, and in this case poorly, utilised.
Overall, this was a marked improvement over Henry VI Part One, both in terms of the writing itself and the adaptation. This may well be my preference for politics over big battle scenes, but it nevertheless feels stronger for the comparative lack of fighting. I look forward to the conclusion of this trilogy. 4/5
Next review: Blackest Night by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, Oclair Albert & Joe Prado