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Film / Henry V (1989)

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Henry V is a 1989 film directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh.

It is an adaptation of William Shakespeare's Henry V. Henry V, king of England (played by Branagh), feels like he should be king of France too. Charles VI of France (Paul Scofield) disagrees, and his rude French Jerk of a son, the Dauphin, antagonizes Henry by sending him a gift of tennis balls.

So Henry mounts an invasion of France in 1415. He captures the town of Harfleur, but with his army decimated by illness, he marches towards Calais with the intentions of going home. The French however have different ideas. They raise an army five times the size of Henry's little "Band of Brothers", and they meet him in a muddy field near a castle called Agincourt.

This is one of two big-screen adaptations of Shakespeare's play; see also Henry V, a 1944 film in which Laurence Olivier also did double duty by directing and starring as Henry V.

Film debut and Star-Making Role for Branagh; also the film debut and star-making role for Emma Thompson, who appears as Katherine of Valois, daughter of Charles VI. Also in the All-Star Cast are Derek Jacobi (the Chorus, aka the narrator), Ian Holm as Welsh officer Fluellen, Judi Dench as Mistress Quickly, Richard Briers as Bardolph, BRIAN BLESSED as Henry's uncle the Duke of Exeter, Robbie Coltrane as Sir John Falstaff, and 14-year-old Christian Bale in his third film as Falstaff's page.


  • Adaptational Wimp: The First Citizen of Harfleur is presented as a bit of a wuss. The real life Commander of Harfleur was all round Badass Raoul de Gaucourt, a highly intelligent, chivalrous commander who held up Henry's way superior army with 200 professional soldiers and 1,000 citizens with crossbows. Only when the Dirty Coward Dauphin refused to aid him did he finally surrender.
  • Angrish: The Dauphin is reduced to talking like this after hearing that the English army has advanced into France.
    Dauphin: (sputtering) The bastard Normans!!...the... Norman bastards!!
  • All for Nothing: The final lines remind us that Henry VI would undo all his father's accomplishments in gaining rule over France, however impressive they were.
  • Armour Is Useless. The French all wear full plate armour and are easily killed by the English arrows, as well as by swords and daggers. Partly Truth in Television, as 15th century armour was often strong enough to resist even the English longbow but would knock the wearer down. Considering that the field was a mudbath, this would prove deadly as the English men-at-arms would thrust daggers through chinks in the armour of a downed knight.
  • Artistic License – History: Confining it to the battle alone, there are several cases where sticking to historical accuracy would not have looked nearly as dramatic. (Which is not to say it isn't a glorious-looking battle sequence.)
    • The English nobles did not charge out to meet the French in a cavalry vs. cavalry fight to start the battle; they quite sensibly allowed the succeeding waves of French knights and dismounted men-at-arms to be decimated by hails of arrows, rather than ride out into the arrow zone themselves. Then the mostly-dismounted English nobles and men-at-arms fought the survivors who had crossed hundreds of yards of muddy field and, already exhausted by the effort, found it almost impossible to defend themselves against the English.
    • The English fought from behind their improvised barricades; counter-charging the French (before the final stage of the battle when they had lost their morale, cohesion, and many of their troops) makes the barricades pointless.
    • As the battle progresses, several main characters, including Henry and the Dauphin, are seen with only token bits of armor on. This is pure Rule of Cool; anyone taking their armor off at this time in history was just asking for a quick death.
    • Along with the above, almost nobody wears full helmets; the only prominent character to wear full armor and helm conspicuously dies in them.
    • The French and English both make individual mounted charges around the field. This may have happened in the closing stages of the battle, when the French were just trying to escape with their lives, but during the height of the battle the cavalry charged in formation and did not seek out individual duels.
    • Henry and the Dauphin meet in single combat, which almost certainly didn't happen. Although Henry did fight hand to hand in the front rank for a short time, according to contemporary accounts, he was accompanied by his household guard and only fought while his younger brother was being conveyed to safety after having been wounded. Furthermore, the Dauphin wasn't even at Agincourt. He spent the battle at Rouen, alongside his father.
    • A minor point; the archers would not have been ordered to "fire". That belongs to the later age of gunpowder warfare. "Loose" your arrows is the appropriate command.
    • The numbers were inflated - in reality, the French numbered around 25,000 (although this was still at least thrice as many as the English).
    • The English didn't kill their French POWs as revenge for the French doing it first; but because they didn't want to risk them being freed by their army and getting back into the fight.
  • Audible Sharpness: Henry's "Once more unto the breach" speech, the first of two Rousing Speeches, has him address a particular common soldier as "And you, good yeoman!". The yeoman then yanks his sword out of his scabbard with a satisfying zing.
  • Band of Brothers: In his Rousing Speech before the Battle of Agincourt, Henry declares that he will forever consider any Englishmen who stand and fight with him to be his brothers and equal in nobility regardless of their actual station.
  • Bitch Slap: Exeter performs one on Lord Scroop while arresting him. Whereas the other traitors flinched when he arrested them and tore off their badges of office, Scroop remained stoic, so Exeter angrily slapped him to rob him of his dignity. (The fact that he had been Henry's "bedfellow", i.e. best friend, and then betrayed him to the French along with promising to murder him, might have entered into it as well.)
  • Bittersweet Ending: Henry has a glorious victory at Agincourt and it appears his marriage to Princess Katherine will be a happy one; yet two of the comic relief characters are dead and the remaining one has lost his wife, forcing him to become a pimp and thief. And then the chorus reminds us that in only a few short years after the play's conclusion, Henry would be dead and all his accomplishments would be undone: the Hundred Years' War would continue with his son losing the claim to France, and the civil war that marred Henry IV's reign would return as the Wars of the Roses.
  • Book Ends: The story begins with an Open-Door Opening where the Chorus opening a door from the empty soundstage, letting the audience into the story. It ends with a Door-Closes Ending where the Chorus closes the door on Henry, Katherine, and the royal party after delivering the epilogue where he tells us that "they lost France" under the reign of Henry's son Henry VI.
  • Call-Back: Henry gets into an argument with Williams while out and about as a King Incognito, and Williams slaps Henry with his glove as a challenge to fight after the battle. Instead, after the battle Henry simply hands the glove back, as Williams has an Oh, Crap! moment when he realizes whom he almost fought with.
  • Call That a Formation?: Invoked by one of the French leaders during the battle of Agincourt, who points out that while their ranks are in disarray, they still have enough men to outnumber and defeat the English if any order were to be established. He's ignored and instead the French nobles charge back into the fray, seeking death before dishonour.
  • Carry a Big Stick: Exeter fights with a huge mace at Agincourt.
  • Climactic Music: The "Non Nobis" starts with a male soloist voice, then builds into a chorus and ends in a triumphant instrumental. This takes the audience from the battlefield (after Henry received the casualty figures and the dead are gathered up) to the peace talks (when the French king eventually accepts Henry's conditions and offers his daughter's hand in marriage).
  • Comically Small Bribe: The Dauphin's envoy sends Henry a coffer, offering to exchange its contents for England dropping its claim to all their holdings in France (which at some points in history up to that point were larger than that of the King of France's) and the French throne. Exeter opens the coffer to find it is full of tennis balls, which only makes Henry's resolve to wage war to enforce his claims on France greater.
  • Composite Character: Some of the roles in the Branagh production, such as the French ambassador or an English herald, were given to the French herald Montjoy.
  • Creator Cameo: Patrick Doyle, who composed the score, is the soldier who starts singing "Non nobis" after the battle.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Shortly after the "Once more unto the breach" speech outside Harfleur, Henry threatens the governor with what he and his soldiers will do if the town doesn't surrender, including raping young women and murdering old men and babies. Horrific as this sounds to modern sensibilities, it was actually fair by the standards of the day. Once a "Practicable Breach" had been made in a city's walls, its fall was just a matter of time, and very little at that. Therefore, the laws of war were that once a breach was made, the city was obliged to surrender, since if the soldiers had to fight their way in, there was no way their commander could maintain discipline and prevent them becoming a mere armed mob once inside. If a city refused to surrender after a breach, the attackers had the right to put every living soul in the city to the sword, having done whatever they wanted to them first. Thus, Henry isn't making bloodthirsty threats, he's reminding them of the inevitable consequences.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: The Dauphin is so angry at the news of the English invasion that he can't come up with better insults than:
    Dauphin: (sputtering) The bastard Normans!!...the... Norman bastards!!
  • Disorganized Outline Speech: The archbishop's incomprehensible speech at court justifying how Henry is supposedly entitled to the throne of France.
  • Door-Closes Ending: The film ends with Chorus, as in the play, delivering the epilogue where he says that Henry VI's ministers, "lost France and made his England bleed." Then Chorus closes the door on the conference room, and the credits roll.
  • Emerging from the Shadows: King Henry's first appearance has him dramatically walking into the rather dimly lit throne room from a more brightly lit outside room, causing him to show up in dramatic silhouette in the doorway as he enters.
  • Flashback:
    • Shakespeare was in such a hurry to Shoo Out the Clowns that Falstaff does not appear in the play; Mistress Quickly has a monologue in which she relates his death offscreen. In order for the audience to know who Falstaff is and why Quickly is talking about him, there are a couple of flashbacks to Henry IV showing Hal and Falstaff's drunken carousing, Falstaff's plea to not banish him, and, via Inner Monologue ("I know thee not, old man"), Henry's awareness that one day he will in fact banish Falstaff.
    • In France, there's a flashback to Hal's youthful carousing with Falstaff and the gang. Ne'er-do-well Bardolph jests, "Do not, when thou art king, hang a thief!", to which Hal prophetically replies, "No... thou shalt."- immediately returning to the present and Bardolph being hanged for robbing a church.
  • French Jerk: The Dauphin, possibly the Trope Maker. He is in fact an obnoxious prick; Henry regards him with utter contempt and even the French nobles can't stand him.
  • Glove Slap: While Henry is wandering about his camp in disguise he gets into an argument with a soldier named Williams, who slaps Henry with his glove as a challenge to fight. Henry of course blows him off as kings don't get into fights with commoners; instead this sets up a Call-Back gag in which he hands back the glove to an astonished Williams after the battle.
  • Helmets Are Hardly Heroic: In Branagh's film, almost none of the named characters on either side wears a helmet, even the French nobles with their full plate armour which is designed for a matching helmet. The sole exception is the Constable of France, who very visibly slams his visor shut before the charge, making him easy to spot later when he becomes the only named character on the French side to die.
  • I Kiss Your Hand: Henry says this word-for-word to Katherine, who recoils in embarrassment. They kiss on the lips a little later.
  • Insignia Ripoff Ritual: The traitors Cambridge, Grey, and Scroop wear badges of high office, which Exeter rips off each of them in turn as he arrests them.
  • In the Hood: Henry wears a hooded cloak to disguise his identity when he goes among his soldiers the night before the Battle of Agincourt.
  • Invulnerable Horses: Averted. During the Battle of Agincourt, several horses (and their riders) are brought down in graphic fashion.
  • It Is Pronounced Tropay: Exeter, visiting the French court, trolls the prince by asking if the "Daw-finn" is present. The Dauphin corrects him by pronouncing it properly.
  • King Incognito: Henry puts on a cloak and wanders about his camp to hear what the men are talking about.
  • Lock-and-Load Montage: A montage right before the French charge at Agincourt has the English pikemen setting their pikes, the archers nocking their arrows, and the knights tightening up their armour.
  • Medium Awareness: The play of course has the Chorus well aware that he is in a play and addressing the audience directly, admitting that the stage is inadequate for dramatizing Agincourt, asking the audience "Can this cockpit hold the vasty fields of France?" In the movie this is delivered by having the Chorus walk across an empty movie soundstage.
  • Moment Killer: The kiss between Henry and Katherine is suddenly ended when King Charles enters. ("Here comes your father!")
  • Mood Whiplash: The English-lesson scene whiplashes as Katherine, in high spirits and gleeful giggles at saying a naughty word, throws open her door, and ses the French king and the dauphin on their way to a war council. If she truly is to marry the English king, it will be because he has defeated her father and brother. Emma Thompson's face says it all.
  • Neck Snap: Nym is in the middle of looting corpses at Agincourt when a French soldier kills him by snapping his neck.
  • Oh, Crap!: Seeing Henry's Tranquil Fury at the mocking gift of tennis balls from the Dauphin, Montjoy (the French herald) all but says this out loud.
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: Subverted. The "Non Nobis" is in Latin, but instead of ominous, it's meant to sound hopeful and triumphant after the big battle sequence.
  • The Oner
    • The scene in the Eastcheap inn where Mistress Quickly relates the death of Falstaff ("as cold as any stone") is done in a single four-minute take.
    • There is another four-minute take in the aftermath of Agincourt where King Henry carries the body of Falstaff's page to a cart, as the camera pans over the debris and "Non Nobis" plays on the soundtrack.
  • Open-Door Opening: The story begins with the Chorus, after delivering his prologue, opening a door on the soundstage that reveals Henry's court.
  • Post-Victory Collapse: Used in this case to undercut Henry's bloodthirsty speech to the governor of Harfleur, threatening some pretty awful things ("...look to see/The blind and bloody soldier with foul hand/Defile the locks of your shrill-shrieking daughters;/Your fathers taken by the silver beards,/And their most reverend heads dash'd to the walls,/Your naked infants spitted upon pikes...") if the governor doesn't surrender. After the governor does surrender, Henry dismounts and is walking back to his men when he reels and nearly falls over. Exeter catches him.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation:
    • The prologue, which is about making theatre magic through suspension of disbelief, is said at a movie soundstage.
    • The film undercuts Henry's horrifying threats to the governor of Harfleur (raping virgins and murdering babies and such) by making it clear via intercut shots of his baffled and exhausted soldiers (especially a young Christian Bale) that Henry is bluffing in an effort to scare the governor into surrendering. It further makes clear that Henry is bluffing by showing him so near to collapse from fatigue after the French surrender that Exeter has to catch him to stop him from falling over.
    • It also omits the bit of Henry and Burgundy exchanging double-entendres about Katherine in English (which she doesn't understand), right there in front of her, and right after Henry's told her he loves her.
    • The bit with Williams challenging a King Incognito Henry to a fight is followed up, in the play, by Henry playing a prank where he gives Fluellen the glove so that Williams will challenge Fluellen, who has no idea what Williams is talking about. This would have been really anticlimactic onscreen after Agincourt, so instead the movie simply has Henry give Williams the glove back, as Williams gapes in astonishment.
    • Henry's "I was not angry since I came to France!" line is given a different context from the play. In Shakespeare's original, Captain Fluellen and Gower return to find the baggage train raided and all the boys in the camp slaughtered, they talk about how horrible this is for about half a minute, then launch into a debate about whether Henry is like Alexander the Great and how he turned Falstaff away. Then Henry comes in with his line. Here he shouts it immediately after discovering the murdered boys. He drags the French herald off his horse when he arrives a moment later just to prove he's angry.
    • The scene of Harry telling his men to kill the French prisoners is cut, likely because it would seem... less than heroic for the King to order a war crime. (For context, in the actual battle this order was given because Henry saw the French massing for a new attack, and feared the prisoners overcoming their guards and starting another fight in the rear of the still-outnumbered English army. There's good reason to believe the order was mainly an intimidation tactic and very few prisoners were actually murdered.)
  • Rousing Speech: "Once more unto the breach" would be a really famous Rousing Speech, if it weren't overshadowed by the other Rousing Speech in the play, the St. Crispin's Day speech right before battle at Agincourt. After the Earl of Westmoreland wishes that they had more men, Henry disagrees. He says that anyone who doesn't want to fight can go home, that having a smaller army means each of them will have greater glory, that every man who fights with him will be his brother, that in years to come everyone who fought on that day will show their scars and brag, while those men home in England will be jealous of them. In the film, Branagh goes for the gusto, giving an extremely passionate delivery of the famous speech, which named a trope. From the film (a shortened version of Act IV, scene iii, lines 18-67):
    Henry V: What's he that wishes so? My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin. If we are marked to die, we are enough to do our country loss. And if to live, the fewer men, the greater share of honour. God's will, I pray thee, wish not one man more. Rather, proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host, that he which hath no stomach to this fight, let him depart. His passport shall be made, and crowns for convoy put into his purse. We would not die in that man's company, that fears his fellowship to die with us. This day is called the feast of Crispian. He that outlives this day and comes safe home will stand at tiptoe when this day is named, and rouse him at the name of Crispian. He that shall see this day and live old age will yearly, on the vigil, feast his neighbours and say, "tomorrow is Saint Crispin's." Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars and say, "these wounds I had on Crispin's day." Old men forget, yet all shall be forgot but he'll remember, with advantages, what feats he did that day. Then shall our names, familiar in their mouths as household words—Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter, Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester—be in their flowing cups freshly remembered. This story shall a good man teach his son. Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by, from this day to the ending of the world, but we in it shall be remembered. We few, we happy few, we Band of Brothers. For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother. Be he ne'er so vile, this day shall gentle his condition. And gentlemen in England now abed shall think themselves accursed they were not here, and hold their manhoods cheap, whiles any speaks that fought with us, upon Saint Crispin's day!
  • Rule of Cool: BRIAN BLESSED marching into the French court dressed in full plate armour, and later battering a French guy with a mace.
  • Rule of Funny: King Henry spoke English as his first language but in Real Life absolutely knew how to speak French as well. Instead we get the hilarious comic relief scene where he struggles to communicate with Katherine.
  • Sad Battle Music: Used during the Battle of Agincourt in the Branagh version.
  • Sliding Scale of Shiny Versus Gritty: Very gritty, especially the mud and blood and death at Agincourt. This is in contrast to Olivier's Henry V film, which was World War II propaganda and looked very shiny indeed, with Agincourt on a bright day full of sunshine.
  • Suedonym: Henry identifies himself to Pistol as "Harry LeRoy".
  • Table Space: The awkwardness of the beginning of Henry's wooing scene with Katherine is demonstrated by having them at opposite ends of a long table. They connect after they get up from their chairs and meet in the middle.
  • That Makes Me Feel Angry: "I was not angry since I came to France until this instant!" Note that in the play Henry says this when he sees some of the English hanging back from the battle, while in this movie that line comes after he finds out about the French slaughtering the boys in the baggage train.
  • Time Passes Montage: Scenes of Henry's tired, dirty men slogging through the mud and rain are interposed with a line on a medieval map, as the movie shows the march to Calais which is interrupted when the French show up at Agincourt.
  • Tranquil Fury: Kenneth Branagh delivers the "tennis balls" speech in a quiet tone but with a fury that is positively scorching.
  • White Stallion: King Henry V rides a white horse. The horse somehow manages to stay sparkly white while the human cast spends much of their time covered in mud and blood.


Video Example(s):


Henry V - Act II, Scene 2

From the Kenneth Branagh film adaptation. The Earl of Cambridge, Lord Scrope, and Sir Thomas Grey are arrested for treason against King Henry V (Branagh). The Duke of Exeter (BRIAN BLESSED) tears off their livery collars (equivalent to military insignia for a noble of the period) before Henry orders them taken to be executed.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (8 votes)

Example of:

Main / InsigniaRipOffRitual

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