*. Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 1 and 2 are sometimes produced together, and at least once they’ve been combined on film to great effect (Orson Welles’s Chimes at Midnight). I don’t know if double-bills are a good idea though. Part 1 is a better play, so depending on how you cut and splice the audience is likely to feel some dropping off. Part 2 just plays like a long death scene. And you will have to make pretty significant cuts. This movie runs through both plays in an hour and 46 minutes, so you can be sure you’re only getting a greatest hits mix-tape.
*. The big novelty here though is the setting, which has jumped from the scepter’d isle of England to the streets of L.A., and more specifically the predominantly Black neighbourhoods. Henry IV (Harry Lennix, wearing a rakish eyepatch) is a sort of local crime boss while Hal (Amad Jackson) is the Prince of Watts. Other geographical locations are translated in amusing ways. A reference to Ireland is changed to Cuba, while Scotland is Jamaica throughout. The general forces meet at Compton, not Bridgnorth, and Shrewsbury clock has moved to South-Central.
*. Aside from such cosmetic changes, which extend to changing cups of sack to 8 balls, it’s actually a pretty faithful rendition of the two plays. And the players mostly do their part. Lennix is joined by Angus Macfadyen as Falstaff. The two had last played Shakespeare together in Julie Taymor’s Titus (Lennix as Aaron and Macfadyen as Lucius). But I particularly liked Geno Monteiro’s turn as Hotspur. He has a fresh-faced boyish energy that you don’t often see the part played with, which is too bad as it fits Hotspur well. But after he dies (at the end of Part 1) we’re not left with much.
*. I didn’t care too much for Macfadyen’s Falstaff. In part because I couldn’t figure out why he was one of only two white faces in the cast, in part for wearing a moustache that didn’t seem real, in part because he didn’t seem that old, in part because he had sunglasses on in half his scenes, but I think most of all just because I’ve always been less enamoured of the character. Isn’t Falstaff just a creepy old guy and a blowhard who lives by sponging off others?
*. The way he does Hal’s father as Brando’s Don Corleone in the extempore bar scene though was clever. I thought there should have been more stuff like that. For example, they really missed an easy trick by not having Falstaff’s troop of cannon fodder being homeless types pushing shopping carts around. That would have been perfect.
*. This is a very inexpensive, barebones production, funded partly by Kickstarter and shot largely in an actual theatre and taking no pains to conceal the fact. That’s something they might have got away with, but the actual filmmaking isn’t up to the task. The blocking is terrible, nobody seems to be pulling focus, and at times the camera just drifts about as though wondering who or what is supposed to be in the shot. In short, it isn’t quite at a professional standard.
*. That’s too bad, as they had an interesting idea here to run with and seemed to have had a route to making it work. I think it’s only fair to say that the money just wasn’t there to make it into a proper movie and they didn’t want to go the route of shooting a play being put on in an abandoned theatre. So it’s certainly not the mess it might have been, but I can’t say it’s very good either.