Starting tomorrow, PBS will air for the next four Fridays the kind of series it airs best: an already-ran-in-the-U.K. period piece. We’re used to getting such sloppy seconds, but this time, we’ve got Shakespeare, with kings played by not one but two much-loved men in the Pajiba realm: Ben Whishaw and Tom Hiddleston. (Jeremy Irons and Rory Kinnear get to play, too.) The Hollow Crown, aired as a part of PBS’s Great Performances, is a series of adaptations one of William Shakespeare’s history tetralogies — Richard II, Henry IV, Part 1, Henry IV, Part 2 and Henry V. As the series has already aired overseas, is on DVD for Regions 2 and 4 and surely has been downloaded illegally more than a few times, fans have already dedicated many a Tumblr post to it, or more accurately, to Hiddleston.
This is one excited fandom, y’all:
But hey, history is cool, and this sprawling production is bringing to life a set of Shakespeare’s plays that typically take a back seat to some of his other works when it comes to what actually gets taught in the standard high school English classroom. And if you’re watching the Starz/BBC original series The White Queen, which begins during the reigns of the two kings who succeeded Henry V (Henry VI and Edward IV) and runs up to the crowning of Henry VII, then you’ll received an entertaining (if perhaps not thorough) lesson on 100-plus years of English history. I’m crossing my fingers for a “Yorks versus Lancasters” category during pub trivia.
Directed by Rupert Goold (Richard II), Richard Eyre (Henry IV, Part 1 and Henry IV, Part 2) and Thea Sharrock (Henry V),the series isn’t one big history lesson, however. The BBC ran its own version of the history plays back in the 1970s, but executive producer Sam Mendes told the New York Times he wanted a chance to revamp the tales, this time with location shoots and plenty of extras. The four plays lend themselves to film well considering the amount of action — there are plenty of battles to fight and thrones to claim or defendm — and even some romance. The wooing of Princess Katherine de Valois by Henry V was previously made memorable when Kenneth Branagh directed himself and his soon-to-be-wife Emma Thompson in 1989’s Henry V. Here, Mélanie Thierry plays the princess who takes a bit of convincing to marry the king.
Hiddleston receiving much of the limelight for the series isn’t out of order. His Prince Hal is only missing from the first play, and for the rest, he grows from a wild and defiant young man to a ruler mature and good enough to inspire men in battle. Richard II and Henry IV aren’t without their own stories to tell — “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown” is a line the latter gets to utter, after all. There’s plenty to behold here as these rulers grapple with power and responsbility. Shakespeare is timeless because the themes he covered and stories he told are timeless. The Hollow Crown appears to be a welcome addition to the adaptation pool.
Other familiar faces you’ll see here and there in the production by Neal Street Productions, NBCUniversal Internatinonal and THIRTEEN include Rory Kinnear (as a young Henry IV), Julie Walters, Simon Russell Beale, Patrick Stewart, Iain Glen and Michelle Dockery.
So. Tears may be shed …
Along with clothes …
But there will be reasons to smile.
A shoot arrows.
And look hard-core.
So, join the history nerd party. It’s fun in here.
The Hollow Crown airs at 9 PM (check local listings) Fridays on PBS.
Sarah Carlson is a TV Critic for Pajiba. She lives in San Antonio. You can find her on Twitter.