Henry IV part II, last night, in the BBC’s Shakespeare series The Hollow Crown, was wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. Set in the contemporary clothes it was meant to be, with that very gritty sense of real people, and real history, it brought everything alive. The acting was superb across the board, but despite Jeremy Irons, and Tom Hiddleston’s great and sensitive Henry V, the very unhollow crown went to Simon Russell Beale as Falstaff.
The cleverness, maturity and scope of that performance, never tumbling into just the comic caricature, was extraordinary and marks him out as one of the greats. Just to pick up a little argument here, apparently he does not think Shakespeare was the Earl of Oxford, Francis Bacon, or anyone else except complex Will Shakespeare, but perhaps leading actors like Derek Jacobi, Mark Rylance and Simon Russell Beale should argue it out for us, from the actors viewpoint.
But something else that TV production proved, in its perfect handling of settings, people and the text, was that Shakespeare inhabited that kind of environment in London, out of comparatively recent history, that had not changed a great deal. But forget the Olympics, this Shakespeare fest, both plays and the commentaries, is proving a jewel in a country’s sometimes tarnished cultural crown.
ps with a respect for not mouthing other’s opinions we added an ‘apparently’ Simon Russell Beale does not think Shakespeare was Oxford