The Hollow Crown series were adaptations of Shakespeare’s most famous history plays and they aired a couple of years ago on BBC2 to celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday. Here I will look at a few significant characters and how they were portrayed as well as the historical accuracy of the plays and their importance. I will be looking particularly at the first tetralogy that chronicles the Wars of the Roses. These plays aren’t performed in the theatre all that often with the exception of Richard III.
London born British actress Sophie Okenedo turned in a pretty breathtaking performance as Queen Margaret. Margaret is possibly the only character present in all four of the plays and having all of them adapted together really adds to her character arc. In Richard III instead of just playing the role of prophetess the viewer can see clearly that the Queen is guilty of a lot of the things she chastises Richard for.
The three Henry VI plays have been condensed into two parts for the television screen and from the offset the Queen is portrayed as a tower of strength in stark contrast to the perceived weakness of her husband Henry VI. She becomes stronger as the story progresses vowing to avenge the death of her lover the Duke of Suffolk and fighting for the right of her husband and so to hold the throne.
A second key character Henry VI is played by Tom Sturridge in an understated but effective performance that highlights the vulnerability and gentle nature of the character. Henry struggles through the story to live up to the promise of his father and establish an effective government himself. Henry finally finishes up as a tragic figure locked away in the tower, until he is murdered by the Yorkists.
The source material being Shakespeare is riddled with historical errors and although they do not in any way diminish the effectiveness of the piece it would be odd of me to mention them here. By the time of Richard’s reign Queen Margaret was deceased and had resided in the French court for the final years of life even though she features fairly prominently in Richard III. King Henry VI is well known for his madness though it is not depicted here, this is possibly a move by Shakespeare to portray the Lancastrian monarch well to appease the ruling Tudor dynasty. The King even had a cult religious following in the early Tudor period. Of course there are many more inaccuracies and presumptions littered throughout the cycle that I will not go into.
Anecdotally I have found that these particular adaptations have proved amazingly accessible to audiences and people who wouldn’t normally consider themselves interested in Shakespeare. The guardian even went as far as to make a comparison between the Hollow Crown and Game of Thrones. Perhaps the productions were pitched for a similar audience. The importance of bringing Shakespeare and Medieval History to television screens cannot be understated as it can reach well beyond the academic, theatre going audience.