The Wars of the Roses tells the tale one of Britain’s most turbulent times as the royal families vie for the throne of England. These final three chapters in Shakespeare’s history plays cover the reigns of Henry VI and Richard III.
When Henry V dies unexpectedly, the crown falls to his 9-month-old son. Dukes Plantagenet of York and Somerset of Lancaster lay claim to the throne and ignite The War of the Roses. As a teenager, Henry VI tries to unite the factions but succeeds only in plunging all of England into civil war.
To stem the bloodshed, Henry finally agrees to make Plantagenet his heir upon his death. Queen Margaret responds to this with a violent insurgence. The Duke of York emerges victorious and Henry is imprisoned in the Tower of London while Margaret and her young son flee to France. The new King Edward IV strengthens his hold on the throne with the help of his brothers George and Richard who has royal ambitions of his own.
In Richard III we see the brief rise and fall of Richard as he takes the throne ultimately to rule from a seat of fear and paranoia. He tries to vanquish his enemies, sometimes brutally, but in the end is defeated in a duel by the Earl of Richmond who then claims the crown as King Henry VII.
2016, Color, Not rated, 6 Hrs 19 mins
DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, 1.78:1 Aspect Ratio
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Judi Dench, Hugh Bonneville
There is no drama like a British period drama and Shakespeare may be thought of as the founder of the genre. No nation seems more proud of its history than England and it seems that every new project to come from the BBC is better than the last. We’ve enjoyed the social intricacies of many Jane Austen novels and hung onto every word spoken by the Crawleys in Downton Abbey. Now a team of British acting and directing royalty has brought Shakespeare to the screen as fully realized feature films. This is not simply cameras pointed at a stage but a complete production featuring some of the best actors in the world, gorgeous locations, period-accurate costumes and of course, that legendary dialog.
My previous experiences with Shakespeare were from old-school productions like Romeo and Juliet from 1968. These films focused more on the dialog and less on the story-telling. The Hollow Crown however may be the ideal way for one to enjoy the work of the master playwright whether you’re familiar with it or not. Acting and direction are top-notch of course but the presentation of the story makes the plot easy to follow even if one can’t always perceive every nuance of the characters’ conversations.
Though the cast is a who’s who of British acting talent, Benedict Cumberbatch as Richard III stands out above the rest. Not only is he completely engaging, he breaks the fourth wall in a way that will completely draw you in. I’d say Kevin Spacey in House of Cards was inspired by this but since that Netflix series came first, perhaps it was the other way around! However you look at it, I can’t imagine a finer way to enjoy Shakespeare, whether you’re already a fan or discovering it for the first time. Highly Recommended.
The image is always sharp with high contrast but I noticed some distracting changes in the level of film grain. It happens within various scenes as the picture shifts from one camera to another. One moment it’s clean, the next gritty. That inconsistency is the main reason for my 3½-star rating. Otherwise color is rich and saturated and blacks are generally deep and detailed though I found a few parts a bit murky.
Audio is generally clear and crisp and presented here in a 5.1 format. Your sub will get a light workout during the battle scenes but I heard very little coming from the surround channels. Dialog is perfectly understandable but there were occasional changes in balance and phase; almost as if characters were moving in and out of the set sonically. It might be attributed to poor placement of boom mics. The best part is the lush orchestral score which is always present and really adds an expansive feel to the on-screen action.
The only extras are a single making-of featurette and a collection of deleted scenes.