Film

Couch-Watch Shakespeare 400 Chicago Shows with The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses

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“For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings;
How some have been deposed; some slain in war,
Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed;
Some poison’d by their wives: some sleeping kill’d;
All murder’d: for within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps Death his court and there the antic sits,
Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp,
Allowing him a breath, a little scene,
To monarchize, be fear’d and kill with looks,
Infusing him with self and vain conceit,
As if this flesh which walls about our life,
Were brass impregnable, and humour’d thus
Comes at the last and with a little pin
Bores through his castle wall, and farewell king!”

(Richard II, 3.2.160)

You didn’t think you’d get through this Shakespeare 400 Chicago year without reading some, didja? The above passage gives us the title of the second trilogy, The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses, of the superb British production, and for those of you who haven’t hit many or any of the 863 events at 231 Chicagoland locations, you can stay on your warm sofa and watch kings’ stories on WTTW over the next three Sundays.

Royal Court Theatre former Artistic Director Dominic Cooke helms this collection for his TV directorial debut, filmed on location throughout Great Britain, making the poetry and prose accessible, and the wars bloody and hellish. National Theatre Artistic Director Ben Power, who wrote two previous series screenplays, deftly adapts this entire series.

The first Hollow Crown from 2013 was the “Henriad” – Richard II, Henry IV, Parts I and II, and Henry V. This installation chronicles the fortunes and follies of the houses of Lancaster (red rose) and York (white rose) in two parts of Henry VI plus Richard III.

Benedict Cumberbatch needed another project, so he skillfully plays the twisted Richard III, alongside other Bardophile luminaries such as Tom Sturridge as Henry VI; a powerful Sophie Okonedo as Queen Margaret; Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville as Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester; incomparable Dame Judi Dench as Cecily, Duchess of York; Sally Hawkins as Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester; Keeley Hawes as Queen Elizabeth; and Sir Michael (Dumbledore) Gambon as Mortimer.

War is everywhere – with the French and within England – in Henry VI Part 1, where the young king marries Margaret of Anjou, forcing truce and setting up civil war.

In Part 2, Queen Margaret and her Lancastrian Lords, as well as York’s grumbling nobles, dominate the weak King, paving the way for Edward VI to take the throne. But beware twisted brother Richard.

Freshly risen from a Leicester parking lot, infamous hunchback Richard III slashes and screws his way through his family to finally achieve, then only to lose, the crown, thus uniting the two houses and ending the wars.

The first series was a wonder; this one a bit more repetitive and difficult in one sitting – thank the Catholic and the Protestant God that PBS has allowed a week’s reflection between each outing.

And you also get to sit on a cozy couch, rather than the bloodied, cold ground, to hear these subjective, sad stories about the deaths of kings.

The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses runs on WTTW, Channel 11, Sundays at 8 p.m. Henry VI Part 1 airs December 11; Henry VI Part 2 airs December 18; Richard III airs December 25 – each also repeats during the week.   

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