Worthy kings are reluctant kings is the lesson of “Henry IV Part 2.” Tom Hiddleston plays Prince Hal as he transforms from a prince to a king as his country emerges from the crisis of rebellion. PBS presents the third play in “The Hollow Crown” series tonight, Friday, October 4, 2013 at 9 p.m. Check local listings.
Shakespeare’s history “Henry IV, Part 1,” left off with Prince Hal (Tom Hiddleston) defeating and killing Hotspur (Joe Armstrong), but allowing a blustering Falstaff (Simon Russell Beale) to take credit for the kill. Where Prince Hal and Falstaff had been superficially close drinking buddies, in “Henry IV, Part 2” they hardly meet at all as their lives have diverged.
This Part 2 begins with Northumberland (Alun Armstrong) learning of his son’s death. At first cheered by the rumor of the death of Prince Hal and injury to the King, Northumberland is brought to grief when he learns the truth.
Again, we find a dirty Falstaff in the grimy London underworld making his way to a brothel. He meets with Lord Chief Justice (Geoffrey Palmer) and we learned from their exchange that Falstaff is suspected of a robbery and that the king is ill. Falstaff’s false battle tale brings him some stature. While with the prostitute, Falstaff learns of a second rebellion–John of Lancaster (Henry Faber) has been sent to battle Northumberland and his ally the Archbishop of York. and eagerly re-joins the army.
Prince Hal hasn’t quite given up the carousing with the lowlife of London and goes with his man Poins to the Boar’s Head Tavern to meet Falstaff.
His father, King Henry IV (Jeremy Irons), learns that Hal is in London and not with his brother when he questions his son Lancaster about his brother’s whereabouts. At the end of Part 1, the king has reconciled with Hal, but now he understand that Hal hasn’t quite given up his disreputable companions. Even with the rebellion brewing Hal is away from court, but his brother Lancaster is not. This rebellion is not put down by an army, but by political wheeling and dealing, mainly on the part of Prince Hal’s brother, John (Henry Faber).
Historically, Henry V became king in 1413 at age 27. He would die in 1422 at age 35. Prince John would become regent (for his nephew King Henry VI), but he would spend his time fighting the French. He would be the one who had Joan of Arc tried and executed in Rouen and have his nephew crowned in Paris. Prince John’s younger brother Humphrey would become Lord Protector of Henry VI, but eventually he would be married to a woman who would be accused of witchcraft in 1441 and he would also fall from favor being charged with treason in 1447 and die soon after.
In “Henry IV Part 2,” the sons of Henry IV are not close and they seem watchful of each other. While Henry IV was in command in Part 1, here he is clearly failing and Prince Hal in a parallel action comes upon his father in bed clutching his crown. Believing his father dead just as he had in Part 1 believed Falstaff, his faux father of debauchery dead, here, too he finds his father is not dead. The crown is soon passed and Prince Hal becomes king, losing both his fathers.
Falstaff has been warned, earlier in Part 1 by Prince Hal and again in Part 2 by others, but he doesn’t hear the chimes. Eagerly he attends Prince Hal’s coronation, only to face rejection as all of his low life associates. Prince Hal is no longer Falstaff’s “sweet boy” but a king. Hiddleston is no longer the shining carefree youth we first glimpsed at in the beginning of Part 1. Serious and almost angry, though not arrogant, as King Henry, Hiddleston shows the weight and purpose not unlike Irons as his father in Part 1.
PBS presents “The Hollow Crown: Henry IV Part 2” tonight, Friday, October 4th, 2013 at 9 p.m. Check local listings. After the broadcast the full episode will be available on demand on the PBS website.