Last night we caught Henry IV Part 2, the third instalment of The Hollow Crown on BBC TV. An impressive cast, led by Jeremy Irons and Tom Hiddleston, strong productions values and a successful editing of the play down to two hours meant that we got thrilling television.
It struck me as rather amusing that Alun Armstrong (playing Northumberland in Henry IV Part 2) was showing his versatility; best known nowadays for Old Tricks he was on TV in Shakespeare whilst appearing live at the proms as Alfred Doolittle in the performance of My Fair Lady (But those with long memories will remember his fine performance in the underrated musical City of Angels in the West End).
The settings for Henry IV Part 2 were stunning, we recognised Gloucester Cathedral but there were a number that we couldn't immediately identify, which did rather nag during the performance. Also, it meant that the cgi effects did rather stand out horribly.
The realistic settings, however, did look rather clean and tidy as did the actors. With the exception of Jeremy Irons as Henry IV, all the other aristocrats looked suspiciously clean and well groomed, not like people who didn't wash all winter. So, only TV realism them. This applied to the plebs, who looking rather alarmingly dirty, in contrast to the aristos. That said, Simon Russell Beale as Falstaff's beard and veiny skin were wonderfully expressive - he in fact looked at times remarkably like Ralph Richardson.
In fact, though Jeremy Irons was superb, I did rather think it a shame that they couldn't have got Kenneth Branagh, himself a famous film Henry V.
Where the production fell down was in the music. We have a very strong tradition of theatre music in the UK, just think of the work that Harrison Birtwistle and Guy Woolfenden did at the National Theatre, to mention but two. At the other end of the scale, the musicians of the Globe playing period music on period instruments.
But last night's score was typified by the coronation of Henry V, where the opening ritornello of Handel's Zadok the Priest morphed into the Antiques Road Show. There were folk-song bits, but rather given the Hollywood treatment. I checked the BBC Hollow Crown website, but there were no music credits listed.