The Hollow Crown… a semi-hollow review

OK, so, I’m a little late to the party, but here’s my take on the recent PBS broadcast of The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses, the BBC miniseries, that aired last month…

Well, really, I’m not all that late to the party. In last month’s Podcast 141, I talked a little about the first of the three segments. Here are some highlights of my review then (for the full monty, check out the podcast):

It was…good. Not great, mind you, but very good. As they were cutting the first play and a half of the Henry VI trilogy to fit in a two-hour expanse of time, things are going to get lost. On the plus side, the show moves quickly. On the minus, we lose almost all of the Joan of Arc content. Choices had to be made, and we only see France when there are English there to see it (and we even lose some of those).

One more thing about the cuts. Well, not so much the cuts, but a MAJOR substitution. In the plays, it’s Suffolk who is Margaret’s paramour. Here, director Dominic Cooke has decided instead to have Somerset play that role. And honestly, I’m not sure why. Maybe because Somerset has the early big speech in the garden plucking the red rose for Lancaster.

So the traditionalist probably cringed at that. They probably cried foul with the casting of Sophie Okonedo as Margaret. Okonedo is black. I have no problem with it myself, especially since she absolutely kills in the role, but I can see some balking. As will some with the sex scenes. Sex scenes, you ask. Yes.

Like I said, this is good. It’s just not great. And it’s not Cooke or the cast’s fault. That lie with Shakespeare (and Marlowe)…the play just isn’t really that good. … But it is worth a viewing…especially for the final shot. York has come home, and he greets his sons, Edward, George, Edmund, who we all see…and then he calls out for Richard, and we see him coming down a dark hallway in silhouette, hunchbacked with a limp, his arm swing wildly. The shadow comes to us until the fills the screen with black. End of program. Very effective.

So that was episode one, which was the build-up to the title war. The second episode focused on that war, and in my opinion was the weakest of the three. I loved Okonedo’s continued brilliance as Margaret. I also really enjoyed Stanley Townsend’s portrayal of Kingmaker Warwick. Of course, really, this is where Richard begins to work his way into the plot. And I really liked Benedict Cumberbatch’s work here. I love how they’ve limited the soliloquies, but with Richard, he’s the only one to speak to the camera. And he loves the audience’s attention (I’m saying Richard, but I bet Benedict was, too). I wouldn’t skip it, because of Okonedo and Cumberbatch, but it’s not great.

And now the big one: Richard III. And it kicks off with THE SPEECH. And we see him shirtless…hunchback and all. But, surprisingly, it isn’t distracting; it actually supports his speech. This scene kicks off a complete domination of the screen, episode, and series by Cumberbatch. Now, some of you may remember how I was not a fan of his Hamlet. But this Richard? Hell freaking yes. Definitive? No way. But for our times? I’d make that argument. He’s snarling, sarcastic, funny, winking, and at times genuinely sympathetic.

Sophie Okonedo kills it again as Margaret. She’s this wasted-away demon. A wraith who becomes Richard’s tourguide through his own nightmare. Brilliant.

So yeah, I enjoyed the heck out of it.

The best part is you can still check it out at the site.

Love to hear your take!

2 Replies to “The Hollow Crown… a semi-hollow review”

  1. Thanks for speaking up about the Suffolk/Summerset switch. It irked me to no end! It made little sense and distracted my first viewing. Did the director really have a reason, or did the writers flub it?
    I bought the DVD set months ago, giving my the opportunity to view it more than once. I found myself thinking along your lines the first time I saw it, but upon a second viewing I found I appreciated it more.
    I had no problem with Okonedo’s casting, I had more of a problem with her acting towards the end. i don’t know if I was just tired of the character or had a hard time buying the fact that Richard’s court would allow a crazy old lady to roam the halls.

    1. OK, so it wasn’t just me. Good to know.

      I’ve only watched it the one time, so maybe it would grow on me.

      Well, as for bad ol’ Margaret, you’re totally right in not “buying it”… because in the actually history, she was in France!

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