The Hollow Crown

There’s a lot of good television becoming available right now (e.g., American Gods and Doctor Who). There’s one more show that’s a bit harder to find in the US that I’d like to bring to your attention.

The Hollow Crown is a British TV series that presents Shakespeare’s cycle of plays on the events that led to the War of the Roses:

Season One
Richard II
Henry IV, Part One
Henry IV, Part Two
Henry V

Season Two
Henry VI, Part One
Henry VI, Part Two
Richard III

What distinguishes this series is the quality of the production, bringing a Game of Thrones vibe to the battle sequences. Because the series was conceived as a whole, the same actors play the same characters throughout the plays, which helps the viewer understand the flow of events in a way that’s harder to appreciate when the plays are presented individually.

The level of acting talent is also impressive. There are two key roles played by actors familiar to genre fans: Tom Hiddleston as Prince Hal (later Henry V), and Benedict Cumberbatch as the Duke of Gloucester (later Richard III). I have to say: Cumberbatch is far better playing the villainous Richard III than he was at playing Khan Singh or Stephen Strange; there’s even a hint of Smaug in his approach.

My conscious compels me to make two disclaimers:

– Shakespeare’s historical accuracy was shaky at best, and this production makes no attempt to correct that. Don’t watch these as a history lesson.

The Hollow Crown reduces the plays somewhat, to fit a two-hour time limit for each play and to make the material more suitable for a screen presentation. In particular, Shakespeare wrote Henry VI in three parts, which The Hollow Crown reduces to two. This does not hurt the production, since you’re not likely to be bothered by the omissions (e.g., Shakespeare’s depiction of Joan La Pucelle as a witch who conversed with demons).

You can find many guides to Shakespeare and history to help you appreciate the series. As I watched, I followed along with Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare. It explained the differences between Shakespeare and history (and the likely reasons for the differences), and provided background for the plays’ events that would not be evident to modern viewers.

I watched The Hollow Crown on discs rented from Netflix. It was broadcast in the US on PBS, and might still be available on the PBS streaming channel. Otherwise you can purchase it on Amazon and Vudu.

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