22 May 2019 | TheLittleSongbird
"No, no, I am but shadow of myself: You are deceived, my substance is not here"
'King Henry VI' is one of Shakespeare's longest and the story of it one of his most complex and most mature, and while not one of my favourite plays of his (maybe because other plays are more familiar to me from studying them in school , so namely 'Macbeth', 'Much Ado About Nothing', 'Othello', 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' and 'Antony and Cleopatra') it is still very interesting and has memorable characters and quotes. Every Shakespeare play is worth getting acquainted with, even the lesser known/performed or more controversial ones, the same can be said for this.
As has been said by me more than once with reviews of other productions of the series, although the BBC Television Shakespeare is not a series where all the productions of all of Shakespeare's plays, its interest point and one of the main reasons to check the productions out (especially when available competition is limited), are consistently great, for me a vast majority of the productions are well done to excellent. 'Henry VI' is the second of only two plays to be split in performance for the series in more than one part, the first being 'Henry IV', this review is for the series' production of the first part and the production fits in the good category on the whole. It more than makes do as a production of a not-often-performed play.
Will admit to not being the biggest of fans of the production values, well the sets really, even with the more abstract look which had the potential to make it more interesting it did look drab and under-budgeted. Not the most appealing or interesting productions to look at from personal tastes.
The staging at times could have opened up more, as parts are on the stagy and static side so there are a few dull patches. Ian Sayor mugs his way through Charles, as does Julia Foster, and Brenda Blethyn, complete with a jarring accent, until her poignant final moments is too pantomimic as Joan. A shame as Joan is a fascinating character in the play, one of the stronger Shakespeare female characters in my view.
Conversely, am going to be one of the people to defend Peter Benson. He is too old for the title role, but brings a lot of authority and sincerity to it. It is him and the remainder of the cast that makes 'The First Part of King Henry VI' worth watching and elevates it significantly to a better level. It was an intriguing and brave move having most of the cast doubling roles, and they do very, very well bringing contrasting personalities to them. David Daker is the most consistent of the actors doubling, where he is equally effective in both roles, especially as Vernon. The cast standouts though are a thoughtful David Burke, Tenniel Evans (in triple roles, and at his best as Mortimer), Trevor Peacock as rousing Talbot and particularly Bernard Hill's chilling Duke of York.
Felt that the costumes were at least tasteful and were more appealing on the eye, while the staging is on the most part done with a lot of spirit and thought, avoiding being cluttered or having overblown speactacle that would potentially swamp the drama and there is enough momentum and action to avoid the static trap (on the most part, it is not completely avoided). The emotional impact is there and a lot of it is to do with Shakespeare's writing being so good and that the cast speak and act it so wonderfully. The camera work has enough intimacy while not being too restricted.
Summing up, has its flaws and there are far better productions in the BBC Television Shakespeare series but a well done production on the whole. 7/10