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Series / The Hollow Crown

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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."
Richard II III.2.150-152, 160-165 (the Opening Narration of the 2012 series by Ben Whishaw)

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 William Shakespeare's plays Richard II, Henry IV Part 1 and Part 2, and Henry V. It features relatively 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), David Suchet (Edmund, Duke of York), Jeremy Irons (Henry IV), Tom Hiddleston (Henry V), Anton Lesser (Duke of Exeter), Simon Russell Beale (Falstaff), and John Hurt (Chorus in Henry V).

A second season, covering the Minor Tetralogy (the Henry VI plays and Richard III) subtitled The Wars of the Roses aired in 2016—coinciding with the nationwide commemoration of Shakespeare's 400th death anniversary, as well as being just a year after the reburial of Richard III. The episodes were primarily headlined by Hugh Bonneville (Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester), Adrian Dunbar (Richard, Duke of York), Ben Miles (Edmund, Duke of Somerset), Sophie Okonedo (Margaret of Anjou), Tom Sturridge (King Henry VI), Keeley Hawes (Queen Elizabeth Woodville), Benedict Cumberbatch (Richard of Gloucester/Richard III) and Judi Dench (Cecily Neville, Duchess of York).

PBS aired the 2012 series in the United States in September 2013 as part of their Great Performances series.

This series contains examples of:

  • Adaptational Badass: This is perhaps the first time that Margaret of Anjou is portrayed as the one leading her husband's armies and fighting hand-to-hand (in armor, even!).
    • This is also one of the few significant productions where the Earl of Richmond/the future Henry VII goes one-on-one with Richard III and overpowers him, instead of Richard being Zerg Rush-ed by his opponents to death (which is more in line with reality, where Henry was believed to have hung around at the back).
  • All for Nothing: The final fate of Richard III is a harsh Downer Ending to the once good-intentioned ideals of the Yorkist regal claim—all facilitated by Richard's cunning and murders (and also likely products of his damaged and conniving psyche). Had Richard not been as suspicious and self-centered by the end, he might have been able to keep his crown and strengthen the Yorkist claim to the throne. Instead, he destroys his bloodline and dies alone on the battlefield.
  • Almost Dead Guy: Warwick lasts just long enough to give his final speech and entreat that his daughter be protected.
  • Altar Diplomacy:
    • Henry V marries the French princess Catherine to seal his victory and establish peace with his newly-seized French territory.
    • The Duke of Anjou sells his daughter Margaret for the right to keep ruling his own lands after the English overrun him. Unfortunately, the marriage articles have Henry make such concessions that he effectively loses France, pushing England further towards civil war.
    • Warwick tries to remedy the above after Edward IV takes the throne by arranging a marriage between the King and Louis XI's sister Bona, but Edward makes a hasty marriage out of lust instead.
  • Artifact of Doom: The series's name comes from a speech where Richard II laments how the crown is particularly-inescapable, bringing despair and sorrow to all who wear it. Ergo, the choice of name and the fact the series keeps the same crown for Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V and Henry VI (coupled with the more significant part of Shakespeare's monologues on the illusory nature of power are delivered whilst holding said crown) gives a non-supernatural sense of this trope to the Crown: all those who wear it, die.
  • Artistic License – History: The Battle of Towton was fought during a snowstorm. The series takes place in summer, judging by the foliage.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: In keeping with the play's origins as a bit of Tudor propaganda, the future Henry VII is portrayed by the very handsome Luke Treadaway.
  • 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.
  • Berserk Button: For Richard of Gloucester/Richard III, it would be being mocked for his deformity. He kills a number of people over it: Edward, Prince of Wales and Henry VI. His being mocked by his nephew (one of the Princes in the Tower) could be added to this list too.
  • Bittersweet Ending: While in most cases the death of Richard III at Bosworth is presented as a glorious happy ending on stage, The Hollow Crown takes it as another sad, tiring event akin to the victories in Henry Vwith the loss of life overwhelming any potential victory that have been achieved. The coronation of Henry VII becomes more poignant and somber after it was immediately followed by the mass graves at Bosworth.
  • Bling of War: Played with; Richard II confronts Bolingbroke in gold armor, but doesn't wear it for anything martial.
  • Blood from the Mouth: Young Clifford and Warwick cough up profuse amounts of blood after being stabbed in the back by Richard, duke of Gloucester. Clifford takes hours to die after being refused a merciful stab by his killer and then his king. Warwick is luckier, lasting only a moment longer than his final speech.
  • Book Ends: Richard II opens and closes with a shot of the large crucifix that hangs over the king's throne.
  • Break the Cutie: In the two eponymous episodes named after him, Henry VI gets it hammered to him how unfit he is for the role of king, while his good nature does not help in any way. When the Lancastrian army is routed at the Battle of Towton, Henry, pretty much at the Despair Event Horizon, utters such before throwing away his royal crown (formerly worn by his Lancastrian forebears):
    Would I were dead, if God’s good will were so,
    For what is in this world but grief and woe?
    Henry VI Pt. 3, II.5.19-20.
    • Henry VI Part 2 shows how Richard, son of the Duke of York (the future Richard III), started out as an earnest (if slightly obsessed) young man and how he gradually turned into the villain we see in his respective play; his home is destroyed, his father and younger brother are gruesomely killed (the latter right in front of him while he's powerless to help) and he constantly has to watch his older brothers screw up or betray each other, every setback causing him to lose more faith in just about everything until he finally has enough and decides to take the throne himself. His hunched-back, withered arm, and the subsequent taunting he gets because of them, don't help.
  • Bury Your Gays: Poor Richard II.
  • Casting Gag: Andrew Scott plays French King Louis in the second season, meaning he is the counterpart to Benedict Cumberbatch's eventual King Richard III. Both, of course, played Moriarty and Sherlock Holmes in the BBC series.
  • Catapult Nightmare: Unsurprisingly, Richard III bolts up after he is haunted in his sleep with a shrill "Jesu!".
  • The Chains of Commanding: Unsurprisingly, as the source material is among the first Trope Codifiers of it in fiction. All of the kings presented are saddled with it, and all try and fail to deal with them (with Henry V arguably the only person to have acquitted himself with flying colors). To quote old Bolingbroke once again:
    "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown." (2 Henry IV 3.1.31)
  • Character Tics: Richard III develops a habit of drumming his rings against the table in his paranoid ponderings. They serve as a version of Heartbeat Soundtrack when some of his murderous instructions are being carried out.
  • Characterization Marches On: Probably In-Universe, even. As we saw domestic life in the House of York, Duchess Cecily and her son Richard are nothing if not a normal mother and son, Cecily even warmly handing Richard his cloak as he rides a horse. The brutality of war and loss (as well as Richard's complicity in most of them) probably embittered both of them against each other, such that when they finally confront each other at the tail-end of Richard III, they can do nothing but snark and throw curses at each other.
    • Bolingbroke/Henry IV undergoes a pretty substantial character shift between Richard II and the Henry IV plays, which can't be entirely accounted for by the change of actors from Rory Kinnear to (the very dissimilar looking) Jeremy Irons. Whereas Kinnear's Bolingbroke is depicted as a quiet soldier type whose unwillingness to mince words contrasts sharply with Richard II's constant speechmaking, Irons’ Henry IV is much more outspoken and emotive and prone to long soliloquies about the cares of kingship (not unlike the very man he deposed, Richard II). Some of this could be chalked up to the changes brought about by the crown (which is an ongoing theme of the series), but between the visible aging and the personality shift it's easy to forget that this is supposed to be the same man just 10 years after the events of the first installment.
  • Colour Blind Casting: As shown by Edward of Westminster being played by white actor Barney Harris rather than a biracial actor, Margaret of Anjou is an example of this trope.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Across the series, notions of chivalry or fair play in sword-fighting are pointedly not observed, which makes sense considering war does not allow for such niceties. It's noticeable in that both a "heroic" character such as Henry V and a "villainous" character such as Richard III are both seen Dual Wielding swords and daggers. Even the Mooks engage in this, as in Henry VI Part 2, when a York soldier stabs Somerset from behind while he's preparing to duel one of his comrades.
  • 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 minor English nobles are combined into the Duke of York.
    • The Henry VI episodes did a significant compression with the Duke of Somerset, who remains as Richard of York's bitterest rival and takes over the Duke of Suffolk's role as Queen Margaret's advocate and lover. He still dies in St. Albans, albeit he is decapitated and his head tossed to Margaret, akin to Suffolk's fate.
    • A case happening with events in the second Henry VI episode: the Battles of Barnetnote  and Tewkesburynote  (separated by 20 days) was presented as one battle altogether. This compression is related to the following example.
    • A confusing case of Artistic License – History happened with Thomas Beaufort, 1st Duke of Exeter, who was Henry V's retainer at Agincourt. Thomas of Exeter died in 1426, while he is shown falling at the Battle of Tewkesbury in the second Henry VI episode. Tewkesbury happened in 1471—a full 45 years after his supposed death. He may have, however, been conflated with Henry Holland, 3rd Duke of Exeternote who fought for the Lancasters at Barnet (combined with Tewkesbury as mentioned above).
  • Compressed Adaptation: One could take the entire saga as a further-compressed version of Shakespeare's already-compressed adaptation of the last years of The House of Plantagenet, albeit one that is better-paced and beautifully produced.
    • Specifically, however, the 2016 Wars of the Roses cycle chose to compress the three Henry VI plays into two: (a) the Part 1 episode comprised by a small part of Henry VI Part 1 and the first half of Henry VI Part 2 (making Humphrey of Gloucester the central tragic character while conveniently removing the negative portrayals of Joan of Arc); and (b) the Part 2 episode continues Henry VI Part 2 up to the entirety of Henry VI Part 3 (consistently portraying the rise and travails of the House of York, while dropping the subplot of Jack Cade's rebellion).
  • Continuity Nod: The presence of Thomas Beaufort, Duke of Exeter (portrayed by Anton Lesser), bridges Henry V with the two Henry VI episodes. His presence in the martial glory of the former king and the pathos of his heir highlights the degradation of the majesty of the English crown—ending with his death at the hands of George of Clarence in Tewkesbury. See, however, Composite Character above as why this is historically inaccurate.
    • The prop chair standing in for the throne of England remains consistent since the Henry IV episodes, the only thing changing is the opulence of the court hall.
    • The crown worn by the elderly Henry IV and Henry V was the same crown later worn by Henry VI while he is in England—with another crown for when he was in France. Later, when France was genuinely independent, Louis XI wore the French crown Henry VI once bore.
  • Crucified Hero Shot: Richard II ends with a pan from Richard's loincloth-clad corpse to the crucifix above the throne. At one point, Richard deliberately invokes this trope during the deposition scene, lying on the floor at Bolingbroke's feet with arms outstretched.
  • Cruel Mercy: Richard of Gloucester slowly develops a taste for inflicting them, especially for downed combatants who request a Mercy Kill. He, however, was raring to kill Margaret of Anjou—but was prevented from doing so by his brother Edward IV, who thought this might be what she deserved.
  • Darker and Edgier: Henry V. The Rousing Speech for both Harfleur and Agincourt 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: it really does seem like he might lose at Agincourt.note  His victories are not triumphs; their cost shows on his face and his army. The only 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.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Young Richard of Gloucester (before he becomes the terrifyingly Machiavellian Richard III) is portrayed as such.
  • 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.
  • Death Glare: When Richard III's nephew makes fun of his hunched back, Richard seriously looks as if he's willing to kill the kid himself, and everyone around them is suddenly very nervous.
  • Decapitation Presentation: Richard II ends with the heads of most conspirators against Henry IV rolling around on the floor.
    • The second Henry VI episode is littered by examples, but most notable would be the cases of the Duke of Somerset and Richard, Duke of York.
  • Decomposite Character: The aforementioned Aumerle in Richard II and York in Henry V are based on the same historical figure.
    • The Duke of Suffolk still exists as a separate character (despite most of his roles taken by Somerset). He has, however, been made Young Clifford's father—and his death at St. Albans drives the young man to vengeance.
  • Deconstruction: Interestingly, the second Henry VI episode and Richard III episode manages to do this to Richard III's plotting and Magnificent Bastard reputation. For most of his adult life fighting for the House of York, he has been consumed by the idea of Yorkist supremacy that he is willing to go to so much ends to ensure it happens—even at the cost of alienating and discarding the people closest and related to him who should have backed him up. In short, he was obsessed with the idea of protecting the House of York that he doesn't even see the damage he has wrought on his family and relatives—not unlike the criticism levied against Tywin Lannister.
  • Defiant to the End: Joan of Arc remains unhesitatingly oppositional to the English, raining down heavenly curses before the flames engulf her.
    • Richard III, true to history, goes down fighting against his foes, never begging for his life.
  • Dies Wide Open: Suffolk, Young Clifford, and the Duke of Warwick end their lives this way. Only Warwick had someone close his eyes.
  • The Dung Ages: Justified Trope, in that soldiers getting mud-caked only happens during the open-field battles, where blood, sweat and soil would churn and muddy up almost everybody (i.e., the Battle of Shrewsbury in Henry IV, Part 1, the Battle of Agincourt in Henry V, and the Battle of Bosworth in Richard III).
  • Establishing Character Moment: When the York brothers are reintroduced after a few years of Edward IV's rule, Edward is not only drinking but getting a refill, George is totally absorbed in a book and Richard is reading through some official documents, apparently the only one getting any actual work done when it comes to ruling the kingdom.
  • Et Tu, Brute?: Richard II is murdered by his closest friend, Aumerle.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Buckingham is alright with everything Richard III does, but he freezes when he suggests killing the Princes in the Tower.
  • Everyone Has Standards: During Henry's graphic description of the city pillaging, the Duke of Exeter (the same guy who talked of Henry's thundering wrath shaking France) seems taken aback, almost shocked.
  • Evil Feels Good: An actual central concept of Richard Gloucester's characterization here. In this we are shown Richard can enjoy very little in his life because of his deformity (as he bitterly notes in a speech near to the end of Henry VI Part 2), so when he does enjoy crushing his Lancaster enemies, he grows a tad overboard with it to overcompensate.
  • Exact Eavesdropping: In Henry IV Part 2, Hal and Poins decide to pose as servants and jump out on Falstaff unawares. Coincidentally, Doll Tearsheet has just asked Falstaff why he even hangs out with them, and he disparages them both. Falstaff tries to talk his way out of it when Hal and Poins jump down, but Hal is unsatisfied.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Bushy refuses to be dragged to the executioner. Instead, he walks up to him with dignity.
  • 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).
    • When Richard II comes ashore, he claims that "all the waters in the rough, rude sea cannot wash away the balm of an anointed king" and writes his name in the sand. The scene ends with the waves washing away his name.
    • A literal case in Henry VI Part 1. As Richard of York calls his sons by name, we see each of them until he gets to young Richard (future Richard III), in which we only see his distorted, shadowy silhouette approaching as ominous music plays, hinting of Richard's future villainies.
    • Deliberately invoked in the final minutes of the second Henry VI episode, where Richard of Gloucester begins engaging in sinister soliloquies—leading up to the opening monologues of Richard III.
  • 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.
  • Give Me a Sword: Hal loses his sword during Shrewsbury and asks for Falstaff's. Falstaff hands him a bottle of wine instead. (Which in the present circumstances, Hal doesn't find amusing.)
  • Gratuitous French: Agincourt or rather Azincourt is pronounced the French way.
  • Gold and White Are Divine: Underlies Richard II's wardrobe choices.
  • Gorn: The Henry VI Part 2 episode is positively the bloodiest and most graphic of the saga—approaching levels only previously seen in Game of Thrones.
  • Handicapped Badass: In this version, Richard III has a massive crooked hunchback, a withered arm, and misshapen legs, which give him a gait. Despite all this, he somehow manages to be a foreboding force in combat: He successfully outfences Clifford and later matches Henry Tudor blow for blow.
  • 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 II, 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).
    • George joins his family to put his father the Duke of York on the throne and eventually becomes Duke of Clarence under his brother Edward IV. Then he falls out with Edward over Edward's marriage and defects to the Lancasters and marries the also-turned Warwick's daughter to prove his allegience. But then when Edward turns up at Tewkesbury and makes an emotional plea, Clarence returns to him.
  • Heroic BSoD: When Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, demands that Henry VI make him his heir, Henry invokes his right as heir of Henry IV and V through succession. York and Warwick note that Henry IV only got the crown by usurping Richard II by force—not purely by Richard II resigning. Seeing the Lancastrian claim as a Broken Pedestal, Henry VI was cowed towards giving in to York's demands. Margaret's subsequent reproach of his guilt-driven decisions (coupled with York's subsequent extrajudicial execution) sends him over to the edge of despair and apathy, throwing away any care for his royal title altogether and running off into the wilderness after the Battle of Towton.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Richard of Gloucester/Richard III is portrayed as a loyal son embittered by warfare and vengeance against the Lancasters towards becoming a ruthless villain.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade / Historical Villain Upgrade: This is, after all, Shakespeare's history plays, and the upgrading has been debated for centuries. The Hollow Crown, however, interestingly plays with it:
    • Richard II and Henry Bolingbroke are portrayed as neither heroic nor villainous, merely men doing things out of their seemingly-justified entitlement yet unable to go beyond them, leading to their tragedies;
    • Henry V, despite his "Prince Hal" antics and conqueror schtick at Harfleur and Agincourt, is portrayed as a man who wants to follow his heart yet beset by expectations to meet them. He succeeds in meeting those expectations, but is not entirely happy over it—and had to sacrifice many things to meet them.
    • Henry VI is best described by writers as either the most saintly of English kings or the most incompetent. Tom Sturridge's portrayal of him shows him for what he might actually be: a sheltered, good-natured young man saddled with kingship, mollycoddled and manipulated for most of his life. He is a good man, but indeed one who shouldn't have been forced into the role of king in the first place.
    • Joan of Arc, in the original Henry VI Part 1 text, was portrayed as the malevolent French witch the English would like to see her. In this production, it's almost consistent with historical writings on Joan: a woman who chose to fight for her country. The production significantly only used the least negatively charged of Shakespeare's dialogue for her.
    • Margaret of Anjou lives up to (maybe even exaggerating) her reputation as a "She-Wolf of France" (killing nobles and soldiers left and right with her own sword while plotting the next scene—owing to Sophie Okonedo's energetic portrayal). Yet even then she appears less as a malevolent, petulant woman and more as an impulsive woman trying to make the best out of her situation and position. That she loses her son, her title and dignity makes her appear less a case of Laser-Guided Karma and more a tragic figure herself.
    • At best, the only villainy we could accord Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York would be his complicity in the execution of Joan of Arc and his open defiance of Henry VI—whereas in historical records he was careful enough to accumulate influence, never to openly declare his desire for kingship. However, the rest of the nobles of his generation (Somerset and Warwick among them) are consistently portrayed as primarily driven by self-interest and nothing more.
    • Richard of Gloucester springs to life not as an inherently evil man, but as a dutiful son who wants to make sure his father York's entitlement to kingship comes to pass. Being met by frustrations, the deaths of his family, and the short-sightedness of his brothers made him the ruthless plotter who will stop at nothing to keep the crown in Yorkist hands—setting the stage for his negative reputation as Richard III. See also Break the Cutie above.
    • Indeed, perhaps the most heroic and "clean" characters in the entire saga would be Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester and John Talbot—men of honor and duty whose unwillingness to take sides lead to their downfall due politicking. See No Good Deed Goes Unpunished below.
  • Historical In-Joke: Due to being portrayed in a combination of Tudor propaganda and the facts that have come to light in the centuries since, the hump of Richard's hunchback is crooked, making him look like he has an extreme case of scoliosis. A nickname of the historical Richard III was "Richard Crookback" and given this portrayal's crooked hump, it is apt.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Richard III is stabbed in the throat with his own dagger by Henry Tudor.
  • Hope Spot: In Henry VI Part 2, Richard and Edmund are hiding from Clifford and he appears to turn away. Unfortunately as the boys attempt to make their escape, Clifford reveals himself from behind a doorway and grabs Edmund; Richard only avoids death as a step behind.
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: Richard of Gloucester to his brother Edward IV. It's part of what sours Richard on his older brothers; he has to pull all the weight of the family after their father's death, while Edward IV and the middle brother George Duke of Clarence waste their time either indulging themselves or bickering with each other.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Richard III is finished off by Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond in this fashion.
  • Impromptu Tracheotomy: Richard Duke of York stabs the Duke of Suffolk in the throat at close range in Henry VI Part 2.
  • Inadequate Inheritor:
    • John of Gaunt's famous speech is, in truth, a dying plea to Richard to become a better king else England will fall into ruin. Richard pays him no heed, too busy tallying up Gaunt's belongings in anticipation of seizing them.
    • Henry IV believes his son Hal is this, and isn't shy about telling him so.
    • The Minor Tetralogy covering the Wars of the Roses might as well be called "Inadequate Inheritor: The Series," considering the kings of the period (Henry VI, Edward IV, Edward V and Richard III) will all be saddled with shortcomings that leads to the end of The House of Plantagenet.
  • Informed Deformity / Historical Beauty Update:
  • Interplay of Sex and Violence: Invoked by juxtaposing the assassination of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester with the adulterous bedding of Queen Margaret and the Duke of Somerset—a statement to how state power was centralized and perverted at the cost of innocent blood. Later on, Margaret seems to enjoy her stabbing of Richard, Duke of York (before she orders him beheaded)—the man responsible for her lover Somerset's death.
  • In the Back: The second series portrays the deaths of several characters as being stabbed in the back unawares, as if to emphasize just how degraded the War of the Roses is compared to the conflicts in the first tetralogy.
  • It's Personal: Henry V does a Skyward Scream of his anger when he's told that the Duke of York is dead and declares that until this moment, he had not been angry in France. His order to slaughter the French prisoners is portrayed as an act of vengeance for York's death.note 
  • Karma Houdini: Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester—the man responsible for the deaths of both Joan of Arc and Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester note —never gets his comeuppancenote . Albeit this may be more of a case of What Happened to the Mouse?, as Winchester is portrayed dying in Shakespeare's original text (in a scene that's quite horrific, spiritually at least).
  • Kissing the Ground: Bolingbroke kisses the English sand after he returns from exile, as does Richard II after he returns from Ireland. Henry VI would himself do so after arriving in France to be crowned.
  • Kubrick Stare: Richard of Gloucester, more and more as the parts of Henry VI drags on, and also in his eponymous play - by Jove is he good at it.
  • Large and in Charge: Warwick is one of the most physically imposing figures in the War of the Roses and he is fearsome on the battlefield.
  • 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.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: For the duration of the Wars of the Roses cycle, most characters with blood on their hands (justified or not) would have been horrifically murdered or disgraced. It's almost positively similar to Akira Kurosawa's Ran (itself an adaptation of Shakespeare's King Lear).
  • Lecherous Licking: Benedict Cumberbatch does one over previous adaptations of Richard III by actively slurping Anne Neville's spit.
    Richard: He that bereft thee, lady, of thy husband
    Did it to help thee to a better husband.
    Anne: His better doth not breathe upon the earth.
    Richard: He lives that loves thee better than he could.
    Anne: Where is he?
    Richard: Here. [Anne spits at his face] Why dost thou spit at me?
    Anne: Would it were mortal poison for thy sake.
    Richard: [wipes the spit and then licks his fingers] Never came poison from so sweet a place.
    Richard III, I.2.148-160.
  • Looks Like Jesus:
    • Richard II resembles the traditional image of Christ. This is implied to be a calculated gesture to emphasize Richard's belief in the divinity of kingship. At Flint Castle, he stands in front of a golden disk, similar to the depiction of halos in medieval art, flanked by silhouettes of angels with trumpets. Even in death, his loincloth and the position of his legs are similar to depictions of Jesus on the cross.
    • This was later unconsciously invoked by Henry VI himself. He starts off with the same long hair (albeit unkempt) and royal robes as Richard II. When he runs away from all the battles to become a mendicant, he eventually grows a beard and wears only a loincloth, much like Richard in his death. He ends in prison with gray robes and a shaggy beard, consistent with the kind of robes the historical Jesus would wear. In contrast to Richard's megalomaniacal image-building, the evolution of Henry's image seems more consistent with first-century Christian imagery.
    • Oddly enough, the one later to adopt the "Christ the King" image in Richard's vein would be Henry's rival, Edward IV.
  • Love at First Sight: Edward IV is smitten as soon as Elizabeth Woodville pulls back her veil. When she refuses to become his mistress in exchange for getting her late husband's land back, he says he'll do one better and asks her to be his queen. As noted below, this impulsive proposal creates bloody ripple anon.
  • Love Ruins the Realm: In Henry VI Part 2, Edward IV chooses to marry Elizabeth Woodville, a relatively low-born widow.note  This infuriates Warwick, who was arranging Edward's marriage to a French princess, and he promptly switches sides to join forces with Margaret of Anjou. Even worse, it alienates Edward's brothers, who are disillusioned with both him and his decisions. George flat-out rebels and joins Warwick (if only for a little while before he comes crawling back) while Richard bides his time and waits...
  • Loyal to the Position: The Bishop of Ely is present in both the second Henry VI episode and in Richard III as the one presiding over the coronations of Edward IV, Richard III and Henry VII—despite being loyal to Edward, fearful of Richard and Henry being the Lancastrian usurper to his previous Yorkist patrons. Interestingly, his continuing presence at court in all historical records probably makes this Truth in Television.
  • Manly Tears: In Richard III, the Lord Lieutenant of the Tower weeps as the two princes are murdered.
  • 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 implied to Falstaff that their friendship cannot and will not survive his ascent to the throne. Before Falstaff can adequately respond, the sheriff arrives.
  • Mercy Kill: Clifford begs for "dispatch" from Richard of York, but Richard decides to let him die in agony instead. Clifford tries requesting it again from Henry when Henry happens across him, but Henry can't bring himself to do it and flees, leaving Clifford to slowly drown in his own blood until the Yorks treat him like a marionette in his final moments.
  • Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal: Warwick defects because the news of Edward's marriage is announced just as Warwick has sealed the deal to have Edward marry the French princess Bona, making a fool of Warwick before the entire French court. Clarence defects for similar reasons when he says that he should have married Lady Grey so that Edward could make an appropriately advantageous marriage.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Across the series, some characters soliloquize on their complicity in a crime, and how it has marked them for retribution. Only a few have crossed the Moral Event Horizon.
    • Henry Bolingbroke / Henry IV seems to see his unwitting role in ordering Richard II's execution as this.
    • Richard, Duke of York, despite raining insults on Joan of Arc, eventually falls disturbed after seeing her consumed by flames. It doesn't, however, come up again when he himself is at the mercy of the Lancastrians.
    • George of Clarence remembers his sins and contributions to the Wars (especially his killing of the Duke of Exeter) at Tewkesbury while he is imprisoned, and seems to begin regretting his actions. Shame that it was at that point that Richard of Gloucester's assassins turn up for him.
    • Edward IV's last lines alive exhibit his shock and despair at failing to prevent George of Clarence's execution. His being sickly pale only adds to his pathos and fear.
    • The most stark exhibition of it, of course, would be Richard III's nightmare where is haunted by the ghosts of all he killed (Henry VI, George of Clarence, the Duke of Buckingham, Queen Anne Neville, Rivers and Gray, and the Princes in the Tower). That the still-living Margaret of Anjou appears as his "tour guide from hell" doesn't help.
  • Narrator All Along: The narrator (John Hurt) of Henry V is really Henry's squire as an old man.
  • Neck Snap: Warwick kills a Lancaster soldier by choking him and snapping his neck in the opening battle of Henry VI Part 2.
  • Never My Fault: By this point a broken, haggard woman, Margaret of Anjou in Richard III still seems oblivious towards her own complicity in her downfall and curses the entire House of York for her misfortunenote . It's probably only at the very last scene, where she stands at the aftermath of the carnage at Bosworth, that she begins to see the futility of it.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Perhaps the most central tragic figure of the Henry VI, Part I episode would be Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, Lord Protector and uncle to King Henry VI. Despite his best efforts, trying to live a frugal life (even spending his own coffers to finance the war in France) and being well-loved by the public, his power, competence and loyalty became the object of jealousy. Through the manipulations of Queen Margaret, Somerset and the Bishop of Winchester, he sees his wife disgraced, he is forced to resign his titles, imprisoned and then assassinated. He has it as bad as Lord Eddard 'Ned' Stark.note 
    • John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, in contrast to most English nobles (especially York and Somerset) was trying his damned hardest to salvage the ground battles in France. Somerset's petulance and the lateness of York's response led to Talbot and his army being slaughtered wholesale at the Battle of Castillon.
  • Off with His Head!: Bolingbroke has Bushy and Green beheaded on-screen.
    • The bitterest instigators of the Wars of the Roses, the Duke of Somerset and the Duke of York, also had their turns in losing their heads: the former at St. Albans, the latter in an ambush at his home.
    • The heads of Richard III's enemies begin to roll in the middle part as he inches closer to the throne: Rivers and Grey, Hastings, and finally Buckingham.
  • Oh, Crap!: Margaret of Anjou does this when her son Ned (Edward Prince of Wales) insults Richard, directly leading to Richard stabbing him; she knows that he's stamped on Richard's deformity and what he's going to do.
  • One-Shot Character: The defection of Warwick to Margaret of Anjou's camp was presided by King Louis XI of France. While Louis XI only appears in this one scene, Andrew Scott's turn as him is verily Camp and yet believable in his fury that it's one of the more memorable scenes in the series.
  • The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: In the opening of Henry VI Part 2, Warwick has disarmed the Duke of Suffolk and is about to kill him when Richard Duke of York shows up and tells him to not kill him, "For [he] himself must hunt this deer to death". Richard allows Suffolk to pick up his sword before dueling and killing him.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Also doubles as Wham Line (though ironically the final line and not for what is said) in Henry IV Part 1 of King Henry suddenly speaking frail indicating that the strong warrior king is sick. Truth in Television as King Henry IV did become ill after Shrewsbury.
  • Out of Focus: Very little screentime is accorded to John Talbot, despite being supposedly one of the bigger tragic characters of Henry VI Part 1 — which translates to more focus on this production's central character, Humphrey of Gloucester.
  • Parent-Child Team: In the opening scene of Henry VI Part 2, Richard Duke of York and his sons Edward and George are shown fighting side-by-side in the Battle of Saint Albans and Battle of Wakefield. Edward saves his father when he loses his sword, allowing York to finish off his opponent.
  • 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. Coincidentally, the one delivering this version is Patrick Stewart himself.
  • Planet of Steves: The upper echelons of medieval English society was jam-packed with Henries, Edwards, and Richards, along with Elizabeths and Kates. The nicknames tend to be more differentiated (Henry "Harry Hotspur" Percy and Henry "Hal" the Prince of Wales, along with Henry VI's son Edward being called "Ned"). Characters are often referred to by their noble title instead—York, Gloucester, etcetera.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: Henry VI Part I uses very little of the material from its corresponding play, since much of its plot — fighting against Joan of Arc — is irrelevant to what happens in the rest of the cycle. Plus, Joan is a) not depicted very tastefully in this play and b) the patron saint of France.
  • Protagonist Journey to Villain: How Richard of Gloucester is presented. In Henry VI Part 2 we see a crippled young man be forced by circumstance of war into a mischevious backstabber, and finding out he likes it, thus embracing it.
  • 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 he and Henry acknowledge that it's just his job to convey messages, not control for content.
  • Rape, Pillage, and Burn: Henry V makes extensive and graphic threats of this kind to the mayor of Harlefleur, persuading the man to surrender. Later, however, Henry uses the sight of Bardolph's hanged body to inform his army that he does not want them to despoil the French countryside.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Falstaff claims credit for Hotspur's death whilst speaking to Hal, who himself killed Hotspur. Hal of course sees through it, but he lets it slide anyway.
  • Remember the New Guy?: You'd think you would have seen Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester in Henry V, being Henry V's brother and subsequent regent for his son, yet he only debuts in Henry VI Part 1. In fact, Shakespeare's original play has him, but he was cut out in the 2012 series.
  • Rousing Speech:
    • Henry V's "Once more, unto the breach" and "St. Crispin's Day" speeches appear, but are considerably more subdued (see Darker and Edgier above).
    • At the morning before the Battle of Bosworth Field, the speeches of Henry, earl of Richmond and Richard III are inter-cut with each other. Richard's is streamlined as a more straightforward rallying cry about the foreign hordes coming for English families, while Richmond's is quite more subdued akin to Henry V's above and a promise to end bloody battles like the one they're about to fight.
  • Rule of Symbolism:
    • Related to Looks Like Jesus above, the image of Jesus (sometimes his pure identity, sometimes his "Christ the King" iconography) is best invoked by kings to assert their authority (or at least their closeness to him in spirit). Richard II (in riding a donkey to his deposition) and Henry VI (as a mendicant) invokes this best, although only the latter could be categorically justified as such.
    • The red and white roses are blatantly invoked early into Henry VI Part 1, and Henry VI's innocent favoring of the red rose pretty much stokes the Duke of York's resentment further.
    • Margaret of Anjou leading her husband's armies into battle might as well be a theatrical fantasy-fulfillment of what the historical Margaret of Anjou would have wanted to do, ham-strung as she was by her gender and limited authority as queen consort.
    • At the Battle of Towton, Henry VI's armor is conspicuously designed to carry the coat of arms of England—and even invokes similarity to the armor worn by Laurence Olivier and Kenneth Branagh in their respective adaptations of Henry V. That Henry VI utterly fails to do anything valiant wearing it highlights how much of an Inadequate Inheritor he is to his father's mantle.
    • In Richard III's nightmare where he is haunted by his victims, a roasted pig's head is decked out on the table while the ghost of Buckingham waits for him. The boar is Richard's personal sigil.
    • As mentioned elsewhere, Richard II's death very explicitly mirrors Catholic iconography of St. Sebastian—who, despite being a Christian saint and martyr, has long been considered a symbol of gay desire. Richard, too, is depicted as gay, and as a sort of religious martyr in his own way (he still espouses the divine right of kings, as contrasted with Bolingbroke's more pragmatic, and modern, political outlook).
  • 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 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:
    • Richard II wears nothing but a loincloth for the final act.
    • In Henry IV, there's one for Hal and Poins and two towels.
    • Henry VI becomes the medieval version of a hobo wearing nothing but a loincloth too.
    • Finally, Richard III (with his glorious, exaggerated humpback and scoliosis in full view) begins his "Winter of Discontent" soliloquy this way.
  • Shoo Out the Clowns: A few of Hal's old Eastcheap friends appear into Henry V, but though they get some comic moments, their roles come out tragic. Falstaff passes away without any lines to be mourned by Mistress Quickly and the gang. Ancient Pistol, Bardolph, Nym, and the Boy are part of the army to France. Bardolph is seen making off with some ecclesiastical booty at Harlefleur — the next we see him, he is hanging from a tree for this act of looting and Henry, after a brief reminiscence, announces that this is a just punishment. Pistol, always a Miles Gloriosus, starts for the battle at Agincourt, halts at the sight of the carnage, and ends hiding in terror.
  • Sissy Villain: Played with Richard II, who's more of an Anti-Villain/Tragic Hero than a villain. Still, the contrast between his delicate effeminacy and apparent homosexuality and Henry's more conventional, heterosexual manliness is striking.
  • Smart People Play Chess: A motif in Richard III. Richard mostly plays chess against himself, but we also see him playing a game with the Duke of Buckingham.
  • Smash the Symbol: As the Lancastrians attack the York castle, Queen Margaret enters the dining room and burns the Yorkist white rose tapestry.
  • 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.
  • Sue Donym: Ancient Pistol asks Henry V his name while wandering around disguised. He answers "Harry le Roy." Fortunately Pistol is too uneducated to see through it and takes it for Cornish, and still doesn't get that Henry goes the extra step by "correcting" that he's Welsh (as in, former Prince of Wales).
  • Stunt Casting: James Purefoy as Thomas Mowbray and the buildup to his duel with Bolingbroke suggest he will be a significant character. Instead, he only appears in two scenes and is banished for life.
  • Take a Moment to Catch Your Death:
    • During the Battle of Tewksbury in Henry VI Part 2, Warwick stops momentarily to catch his breath when he is stabbed in the back by Richard, the latter shown in a Reveal Shot.
    • A non-fatal example happens later when Margaret walks after the battle and stops to sit on a log. Richard, George and several others subsequently appear and capture her.
  • Time-Shifted Actor: Henry IV (Bolingbroke) is played by Rory Kinnear as a young man and Jeremy Irons when he's older.
  • Title Drop: The title of the series was taken directly from Richard II's despairing monologue (Richard II III.2.165-167):
    For within the hollow crown
    That rounds the mortal temples of a king
    Keeps Death his court...
  • Token Minority:
    • In Richard II, the Bishop of Carlisle is black; though nobody seems to notice. It's difficult to ignore it once he says, "O forfend it God/ That in a Christian climate, souls refined/ Should show so heinous, black, obscene a deed!"note 
    • Also, in Henry V, the Duke of York is black, despite being the same individual as the Aumerle of Richard II played by a white actor. (Few productions make the connection between the two characters, however.)
    • One of the most-discussed casting choices would be Sophie Okonedo's portrayal of Margaret of Anjou—which even invoked racist abuse online. It does, however, highlight her foreignness from the English court--as Margaret's French blood did during her time.
  • Token Good Teammate: The Duke of Exeter consistently remains the most morally heroic character of the Lancastrian forces in Henry VI Part 1 and 2. Markedly, when the Lancastrians conspire to kill Humphrey, Exetor's their only member who has no part in the conspiracy and is thus shocked when he's killed. He's even this in Henry V, as he seems appalled by some of Henry's crueler moments.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The young Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York (the younger of the Princes in the Tower) seems to have developed a habit of doing an exaggerated, limping impression of his uncle Richard III—despite being warned by his mother of its impropriety (and it being his Berserk Button). He had the temerity to do it in front of Richard himself. Needless to say, it cements Richard's intent that they do not leave the Tower alive.
  • Tragic Villain: The series plus adds a lot of emphasis in how Richard Used to Be a Sweet Child in Henry VI Part 2, so when we see him in full cackling villainy in Richard III, there's a sense of tragedy to it. In one of his last monologues in Part 2, he also muses about happiness and nearly breaks in tears when he observes his deformity robs him of all joy in life except his cruelty and ambition.
  • Training Montage: Featured over the opening credits of Richard II as Bolingbroke and Mowbray prepare for their duel.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March. Only referred to by word in the Henry IV episodes, he was seen as the only threat to the Lancasters' usurpation of Richard II. Come Henry VI Part 1, the dying Mortimer calls Richard Plantagenet to his deathbed, enjoining him to regain the duchy of York to his name and seek the English crown for himself.
  • Villainous Friendship: Richard III looks genuinely upset when Catesby is killed, the only major character whom he hasn't killed and who stayed at his side for all his misdeeds.
  • The Voiceless: Elizabeth of Yorknote  appears across Richard III, but is never given a speaking role. Still, considering she is normally The Ghost in most stagings of this play, it's technically a step up.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Henry VI, not a martial man by any fashion, throws up on-screen when the carnage of the Battle of Towton gets to him.
  • War Is Hell: Consistently throughout both Major and Minor Tetralogies. Writers normally suggested that the Minor Tetralogy portrays war in all its vulgarities while the Major Tetralogy (especially Henry V) portrays War Is Glorious. Yet throughout all productions, not once were the battles and triumphs (even in Henry V, as mentioned in Darker and Edgier above) seen as worthy and of praise: people are stuck in the mud, cut down with brutal frequency, and human tragedy cuts across all—nobleman and foot soldier alike.
    • The best illustration of this would be in the second Henry VI episode, where King Henry VI witnesses two men (one a son, the other an old father) killing their opponent for booty, only to horrifically discover that they killed their own kin (the former his father, the latter his son).
    • And then the last scene of the Richard III episode tops this up with less gore and more scale, with Margaret of Anjou listlessly looking towards heaven while the camera zooms out of Bosworth Field, highlighting the hundreds of dead this last battle of the Wars of the Roses wrought.
  • 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, yet he still drops off the face of the earth part of the way through Part 2.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Henry V's generals all look pretty aghast when Henry threatens Rape, Pillage, and Burn at Harfleur.note  Later, Exeter is horrified at Henry's order to execute the French prisoner's at Agincourt.
  • 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.