Series / The Hollow Crown

The Rise and Fall of a Dynasty

Let’s talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs,
Make dust our paper, and with rainy eyes
Write sorrow on the bosom of the earth....
[L]et 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 poisoned by their wives, some sleeping killed,
All murdered. For within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps Death his court...
Richard II (Act 3, Scene 2, 150-152, 160-167)

The Hollow Crown, created by the BBC as a part of the "Cultural Olympics" in 2012, is a mini-series based on the Henriad or Major Tetralogy, the quartet of Shakespeare's plays Richard II, Henry IV Part 1 and Part 2, and Henry V. It features fairly lavish production values, and an all-star cast, headlined by Ben Whishaw (Richard II), Rory Kinnear (Henry Bolingbroke/Young Henry IV), Patrick Stewart (John of Gaunt), Jeremy Irons (Henry IV), Tom Hiddleston (Henry V), Simon Russell Beale (Falstaff), and John Hurt (Chorus in Henry V).

PBS aired the series in the United States in September 2013 as part of their Great Performances series.

A second season, covering the Minor Tetralogy (the Henry VI plays and Richard III) subtitled "The War of the Roses" and starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Richard III, is currently in post-production and will air in 2016.

This series contains examples of:

  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Hotspur and Lady Percy, veering into Slap-Slap-Kiss. Or smack, smack, attempted-finger-breaking, face-shove, slap, slap, face-shove, kiss. They're very...physical.
  • Bling of War: Played with; Richard II confronts Bolingbroke in gold armor, but doesn't actually wear it for anything martial.
  • Book Ends: Richard II opens and closes with a shot of the large crucifix that hangs over the king's throne.
  • Bury Your Gays: Poor Richard.
  • Composite Character: This is common to productions of the histories, and The Hollow Crown is no exception:
    • Bagot in Richard II is conflated with Lord Salisbury, who appears in two scenes in the full text.
    • Also in Richard II, Aumerle takes over most of Exton's dialogue and his role as regicide.
    • In Henry V, most of the minor English nobles are combined into the Duke of York.
  • Crucified Hero Shot: Richard II ends with a pan from Richard's loincloth-clad corpse to the crucifix hanging above the throne. Richard deliberately invokes this trope during the deposition scene at one point, lying on the floor at Bolingbroke's feet with arms outstretched.
  • Darker and Edgier: Henry V. The "rousing" speeches are often desperate attempts to pick up terrified soldiers suffering the beginnings of PTSD, Henry himself seems brave but unsure and increasingly weighted down by his decisions and it really does seem like he might lose at Agincourt. His victories are not triumphs, and their cost shows on his face and in his army. The only really visually "glorious" moment is his funeral. While almost all productions have the Chorus remind the audience how short Henry's life was, it's rare to actually see him dead, and England in mourning.
  • Death by Adaptation: Bagot in Richard II survives by testifying against his former compatriots; this adaptation cuts that scene and has him beheaded along with the rest of Richard's former allies.
  • Decapitation Presentation: Richard II ends with the heads of most of the conspirators against Henry IV rolling around on the floor.
  • Decomposite Character: The aforementioned Aumerle in Richard II and York in Henry V are based on the same historical figure.
  • Et Tu, Brute?: Richard II is murdered by his closest friend, Aumerle.
  • Everything's Better with Monkeys: Richard II has a pet monkey, and at one point he ignores his courtiers to feed it. According to director Rupert Goold, this was inspired by Michael Jackson.
  • Famous Last Words: Richard II's last actual words were cut at "Go thou and fill another room in hell" (V.6.110), rendering it a Pre-Mortem One-Liner of his Last Stand. While the original "Mount, mount, my soul" sequence (V.6.112-116) is excised, Ben Whishaw's acting of Richard's death throes somewhat shows more than if it had been verbalized.
  • Foreshadowing: Near the beginning of Richard II, Richard watches a model posing for a painting of St. Sebastian. Guess what happens to him at the end? The very opening scene of Richard II also foreshadows the layout of how the entire affair will end (see the Tear Jerker section for details).
  • Furo Scene: A five and a half minute Furo Scene with Tom Hiddleston and David Dawson. Nothing sexual happens, be assured, but it'll be hard to ignore for viewers of both genders.
  • Gratuitous French: Agincourt or rather Azincourt is pronounced the French way.
  • Gold and White Are Divine: Underlies Richard II's wardrobe choices.
  • Heel–Face Revolving Door: Due to most of Exton's lines and role as the person to kill Richard going to him, Aumerle becomes this, as he starts out as loyal to Richard, before reluctantly being forced to swear loyalty to Henry, only to join in on the conspiracy to assassinate the new king, until his dad catches him and he kills Richard to atone (even though that isn't what Henry wanted).
  • Inadequate Inheritor: Henry IV believes his son Hal is this, and isn't shy about telling him so. It's a major subtext in the series; John of Gaunt feels the same way about Richard.
  • Informed Deformity / Historical Beauty Update: Henry V goes out of his way to apologize to Catherine for his looks, and in real life he had facial scars from an earlier battle. In this production, this is what he looks like.
  • Kissing the Ground: Bolingbroke kisses the English sand after he returns from exile, as does Richard II after he returns from Ireland.
  • Large Ham: Hotspur. Otherwise, mostly averted, which is surprising considering that it's Shakespeare. Speech is delivered as dialogue rather than verse. Even two great speeches of Henry V are delivered in a more subdued way than usual.
  • Looks Like Jesus: Richard II. This is implied to be a calculated gesture to emphasize Richard's belief in the divinity of kingship.
  • Moment Killer:
    • Deliberately invoked by Hal and Doll Tearsheet; they set up the sheriff to be a cockblocker as a way to 1. make the sheriff uncomfortable 2. give Hal a reasonable excuse for sending the sheriff and his men away without searching the house (and arresting Falstaff) and 3. make the sheriff extremely uncomfortable. It works.
    • The sheriff also kills another moment that has nothing to do with sex: for the first time, Hal has let on to Falstaff that their friendship cannot and will not survive his ascent to the throne. Before Falstaff can properly respond, the sheriff arrives.
  • Narrator All Along: The narrator (John Hurt) of Henry V is really Henry's squire as an old man.
  • Off with His Head!: Bolingbroke has Bushy and Green beheaded on-screen.
  • Patrick Stewart Speech: Subverted by John of Gaunt's famous speech about the greatness of England, as the end of the speech suggests that it is doomed. Actually delivered in this version by Patrick Stewart.
  • Punch Clock Villain: The French ambassador, at least from the in-universe point of view of the English, comes off this way. He's constantly bringing Henry V bad news and rude messages, but both he and Henry acknowledge that it's just his job to convey messages, not to control for content.
  • Sad Clown: Simon Russell Beale's Falstaff has definite shades of this, particularly evident in his "honor" monologue before the Battle of Shrewsbury. While he's definitely very much the Lovable Coward (like all iterations of the Fat Man), the harsh realities of war seem to sadden him just as much as they frighten him.
  • Shirtless Scene: One for Hal and Poins and two towels.
  • Sissy Villain: Played with with Richard, who's more of an Anti-Villain/Tragic Hero than a villain. Still, the contrast between his delicate effeminacy and obvious homosexuality and Henry's more conventional, heterosexual manliness is striking.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: In the full text of Henry V, the Boy is killed with his fellow pages while guarding the luggage. In this production, he survives to old age and at the end is revealed to be the Chorus.
  • Time-Shifted Actor: Henry IV (Bolingbroke) is played by Rory Kinnear as a young man and Jeremy Irons when he's older.
  • Token Minority: In Richard II, the Bishop of Carlisle is black; though nobody seems to notice. It's kind of difficult to ignore it once he says the line "O forfend it God/ That in a Christian climate, souls refined/ Should show so heinous, black, obscene a deed!"
    • Also, in Henry V, the Duke of York is black, despite being the same individual as the Aumerle of Richard II, who's played by a white actor. (Few productions make the connection between the two characters, however.)
  • Training Montage: Featured over the opening credits of Richard II as Bolingbroke and Mowbray prepare for their duel.
  • The Wise Prince: Henry V starts out rather fresh-faced and dashing, but the toll of his decisions and the demands of leadership weigh him down more and more as his story unfolds. Then he dies.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Douglas has two scenes in Henry IV Part 1 and is never mentioned again. In the play, Hal is so impressed by his courage in battle that he releases him without a ransom, but this scene is omitted. It's a shame, too, because Hal's account of Douglas's capture paints him in a much better light than the Dirty Coward noblemen who get sentenced to death by King Henry in the same scene.
    • Poins' role as one of Hal's friends is somewhat expanded on in this version, and yet he still drops off the face of the earth part of the way through Part 2.