PREVIEW & Q&A: The Hollow Crown starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Sturridge

WORTH A LOOK?: ****

WHERE: BFI

WHEN: 29/3, screens April

The BFI audience has just seen the first episode of the new BBC Hollow Crown trilogy and there are clear Game Of Thrones comparisons although star Tom Sturridge (who plays Henry VI) is having none of it.

  • Read on to find out which Sherlock actor joins Benedict Cumberbatch (pictured above) in this BBC2 production

He also doesn’t agree these versions of Henry VI (parts 1 and 2) and Richard III are bringing Shakespeare to a younger audience on the 400th anniversary of the bard’s death on 23/4.

Co-star Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey) is more agreeable and congratulates director Dominic Cooke and writer Ben Power on creating something ‘coherent’ from an original Bonneville dubs ‘kaleidoscopic’. The trilogy is not among the author’s favourite works but its references to the houses of York and Lancaster and War Of the Roses are thought to have influenced Game Of Thrones, which returns to UK screens 25/4.

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Fans of TV’s Sherlock will be delighted by Cumberbatch’s bravura performance – which Cooke describes memorably as ‘he’s really going for it’ – and Andrew Scott (Moriarty) as French King Louis.

Bonneville stars as the Duke of Gloucester, Henry VI’s protector, in the first of the three films. He says of his character: ‘He’s the best advert ever for a time-limit on CEOs. He hasn’t made his protege quite ready and I had to unpick his reluctance to yield to a young man who may or may not be ready to stand on his own two feet.’

Cooke says of Cumberbatch’s performance: ‘What he did brilliantly was to chart his growing up which was marred by violence. He also doesn’t pull any punches about what it would be like to grow up as a disabled person in medieval England irrespective of status.’

Judi Dench plays Richard III’s mother in the final instalment which the BFI audience doesn’t see. Cooke says: ‘She hasn’t dealt with the fact that she’s given birth to Richard and has the most incredible speeches where she wishes that hadn’t taken place.’

Cooke says: ‘The key thing that happens in the third film is when Richard sanctions the murder of the children. For Shakespeare that is a moral line that can’t be stepped back from. Like the Scottish play there is a moment when the universe turns against the leader and their world starts to implode.’

Cooke describes Richard and Henry as two examples of flawed leaders, the former a psychopath the latter overly empathic.

Sturridge is delighted to have worked with Cooke and Power. ‘I’d never done Shakespeare and didn’t understand how to do it. They taught me to do it. Shakespeare was an actor and actors are always asking questions of their characters. Shakespeare answers all of those in his writing. It’s magical and amazing.’

The panel is asked whether a sex scene in the first film is justified but they say it is clear from the original text that the couple in question have a physical relationship.

The BBC’s original 2012 Hollow Crown featured Richard II, Henry IV (parts 1 and 2) and Henry V and starred Tom Hiddleston. Ben Whishaw and Simon Russell Beale won BAFTAs. We loved that and those plays are definitely better than those featured in the latest trilogy.

However, it’s clear where the £6.5 million budget has been spent in the new works and the impressive battle scenes in particular will satisfy Game Of Thrones fans. Cumberbatch’s outrageous and devilish Richard III just might do what Sturridge denies and bring Shakespeare vividly to life for a much younger audience.

  • The Hollow Crown screens on BBC2 around 23/4. Picture courtesy BFI
  • Enjoyed this preview/Q&A? Follow its author on Twitter @NeilDurham

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