Henry V (1944) – Laurence Olivier


I dipped back into the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book to check out the next genre and films for me to watch… It’s War, and up for viewing this time around is Laurence Olivier’s film adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic play of young Henry V, King of England, and his confrontation with the French culminating with the battle of Agincourt.

Until this time, I’d never seen this version of the play, I knew the play, was a huge fan of Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation, but had never checked to see what Olivier did with his, and I’ll be honest, I rather like his version.

The film brings us back in time, to the world-renowned Globe Theatre, where a company is putting on the Bard’s play, there is humor with backstage occurrences, funny moments on the boards, and of course, the weather (it was an open-air theatre).

Olivier who directs as well, brings us into the world, and the first portion of the film treats as to a stage version of the film, until, with the Henry’s arrival at Southampton, the Globe audience is left behind, and we are brought into a slightly stylized world, it’s not quite real, as some of the backgrounds, and building designs are a little too stage like, but it’s no longer a stage presentation. I loved this!

The film follows the parties involved in the dispute, Henry (Olivier), the arrogant French Dauphin (Max Adrian), the common man in the form of Ancient Pistol (Robert Newton), and the French princess, Katherine (Renee Asherson).


We see the trials and pains of the common men in service and war for their king, how these decisions weigh on an honest man who wears the crown, and the cost of the battles that are fought.

It’s a fantastic adaptation, and by using the stage and audience at the beginning, it also illustrated that there is a lot of humor in the story, which is lost as the story progresses, but by that point you are too swept up in caring for the characters as they face the possibility of their death come sun-up.

My favorite sequences are nicely rendered, the iconic wandering of the camp on the eve of the battle of Agincourt, with Henry, disguised, conversing with the common men in the troop, giving and taking comfort as he can.

And, of course, there is the stirring St. Crispin’s Day (which is October 25) speech, which is wonderfully realized.

Yes, some people may have problems getting into the film with such dialogue, but I find it’s easy to fall into it fairly quick, one just needs to listen. And why wouldn’t you want to listen to such amazingly written dialogue, and then try to remember as much of it as you can, so that you can quote it when you like?

What’s your favorite Shakespeare film adaptation?




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