Olivier And Branagh
’s Henry V Essay, Research Paper
Olivier and Branagh s Henry V Henry V is one of the most frequently filmed history plays written by Shakespeare. Of the four filmed versions of Henry V, the two most popular are the 1944 Laurence Olivier version and the 1989 Kenneth Branagh version. While Olivier s version was released in England in 1945, it was not released in the United States until 1952. There are numerous differences between these two versions. Three of the most noticeable differences are the way the two directors treated the conspiracy scene, battles, and religious solemnity. Out of these three differences, the way the conspiracy scene was dealt with was the one that stood out the most. Olivier cut the scene completely, for any number of reasons. Olivier s version of Henry V was produced in the middle of World War II, and it can be viewed as a patriotic appeal to the people of England to consider the greatness of the righteousness and heroism of the English cause. If this scene remained in the film, it would not portray a very good image of England, considering the time when the movie was filmed and released. Another possible reason for cutting this scene was that Olivier felt that the audience did not need to be thinking about rebellion against King and cause. Branagh s treatment of this scene is very different; he uses it as an opportunity to let the audience get a glimpse of Henry as an actual person, not just the King of England. Branagh defines King Henry as a man who is capable of separating his personal emotions from the demands that are placed on him as king. In Branagh s Henry V, Scroop is given priority over the other conspirators, because he was so close to Henry. However, because Henry is the king, he must set his feelings for his friend aside and sentence his friend and his co-conspirators to death. Another difference between the Olivier and Branagh versions is the way the two men deal with battle situations. Olivier s portrayal of the capture of Harfleur and the Battle of Agincourt is watered down from the brutal affairs they were. At that time, no one needed to be reminded that war really is bloody and painful. In Branagh s version, Henry fights alongside his men during battles, which are shown as they really were vicious and bloody. Olivier s King Henry is unquestioned and unbloodied in battle, while Branagh s King Henry fights with his men as an equal, fully conscious of his past and his future, and knowing that he is still a common man and new to the throne. While Olivier s battles take place on flowery, pastoral fields, with the dead soldiers looking more like they are just asleep, Branagh s battles are much more vicious. Branagh s battlefield is drenched in rain and blood, no salvation or honor to be found. Henry fights hand to hand with the French, and is weak and bloodied by the end. There is no glorification in Branagh s Henry V. He portrays the Battle of Agincourt as repelling and horrible.
The third and final major difference between the two versions of the film is the way religion is treated. Olivier does one of two things where religion is concerned he either uses it for comic relief by making it into a joke, or he completely omits the lines concerning religion. In the first case, Olivier portrays the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Ely as fools who can not keep their papers in order, greatly undermining the religious overtones of their speeches. In the second case, Olivier completely cuts Henry s direct plea to God to further the idea that Henry is a fully competent leader, and does not need help or pity from God to save him. Unlike Olivier, Branagh retains and emphasizes the serious religious overtones of the clergymen s speeches. Also, where Olivier cuts some religious dialogue, Branagh uses it as an opportunity to give the audience a glimpse of Henry s personal anguish and guilt because of his father’s usurpation of Richard II. Henry shows how much he truly cares for his men, as he walks through the camp the night before the battle, pleading with God to allow his solders this victory. He asks God to forgive what his father did, and to not take His anger out on the innocent men. Although both the Olivier and Branagh versions took some liberties with their interpretations of Henry V, Branagh s version was much closer to the original text than Olivier s version. There were three major differences in the way the two directors treated certain issues in their films the conspiracy scene, the battles, and religious overtones in the play. The biggest difference between the two films is that Olivier s production was make for political purposes, to boost morale during World War II, while Branagh s version was make for entertainment purposes, and maybe to show the world what Henry V was really supposed to be like.