God for Harry! England and Saint George

By McLean, Andrew M | Literature/Film Quarterly, Fall 1973 | Go to article overview

God for Harry! England and Saint George


McLean, Andrew M, Literature/Film Quarterly


God for Harry! England and Saint George Harry M. Geduld. Filmguide to Henry V. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 1973. $5.00 cloth, $1.75 paper.

Geduld has added a balanced and thoughtful study to the "Filmguide" series of which he is a general editor (along wth Ronald Gottesman). The purpose of this series is quite simply to provide the student with a useful and inexpensive guide which carefully outlines the film, gives basic information concerning the director, the production, a detailed analysis of the film itself. and bibliographic information. Geduld nicely summarizes Olivier's career, emphasizes how his forte "has always been the convincing portrayal of triumphant or tragic men of action or power," and explains his initial reluctance to direct the film version of Henry V. This account of the origins of the production will fascinate with its series of coincidences occurring in war-torn Britain: writer Dallas Bower unexpectedly finds a financial backer in Filippo Del Giudice who hears Olivier do a radio production of Henry V and contacts him to direct the film. To Del Giudice's credit he agreed to Olivier's terms that he would control all producing and casting decisions, and the new director then went about to make use. as James Agee has noticed, "of a good deal of talent which most professional moviemakers overlook."

Geduld's emphasis is on the film and not on Shakespeare's play. Thus, there is little or no discussion of Shakespearean dramatic structure or motifs, Elizabethan staging, and so on, which an enthusiast of the drama can find discussed elsewhere. A short section discusses the material Olivier cut from the original play such as background material (e.g.. Scots as traitors, earlier history) and statements exaggerating claims of Henry's perfection, etc. There is a useful summary of transposed materials and lines reassigned to different characters based on a collation of the play with the published film script (in FHm Scripts One, ed. G. P. Garrett). Geduld also mentions material added to the play such as Falstaff's death scene from 2 Henry 4 and comments by Pistol from Tamburlaine, I. A literary critic might wish for more commentary on why these cuts were made, but because this guide is to the film of Henry V, we must remain content with Geduld's brief explanation that they simplify the story, focus on the battle of Agincourt episodes, and remove unfamiliar Renaissance concepts of kingship and politics from the modern audience. Here is an area in need of further exploration and study.

In such a short guide, the author has wisely devoted the bulk of his study to a detailed analysis of the film itself. However, before Olivier's Henry V opened on 22 November 1 944 at London's Carlton Theatre, there were four major production problems to solve in adapting the play to film. Olivier's solution to these problems, as Geduld remarks, "were to give his picture some of its most memorable touches." The first two problems were concerned with how to make Shakespearean language seem natural to a modern audience, and how to treat Shakespeare's Chorus. The decision to have the Chorus look like an Elizabethan actor suggested to Olivier the frame device of the Globe Theatre which opens and closes the film. The flamboyant language of the opening Chorus provides a contrast by which the blank verse and prose which follows seems more natural. The third problem concerned the filming of long speeches which Olivier solved by beginning the long speeches with a close-up and then pulling back - a significant innovation. Finally, the problem of appropriate background and setting for a film "planned as a 'painter's eye-view' of moving events" (Olivier) was solved by using painted backdrops based on medieval illustrations. Indeed, anyone viewing the film is struck by the balanced, formal and almost stylized, yet poignant pictorial qualities of the characters in the French court, for example, or in Pistol's comic encounter with Fluellen. …

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