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Scorsese Screens - February 2019
Remind Me

February Highlights on TCM

In partnership with The Film Foundation, Turner Classic Movies is proud to bring you this exclusive monthly column by iconic film director and classic movie lover Martin Scorsese.

Henry V (1944) - (February 4, 3am ET) - Filmmakers grappled with Shakespeare before and after Laurence Olivier, but for many his Henry V remains the Shakespeare film par excellence. The Max Reinhardt version of A Midsummer Night's Dream, made at Warner Bros. in 1935, is certainly a one of a kind film, while the 1936 version of Romeo and Juliet, directed by George Cukor, is Shakespeare by way of MGM. After the war, Orson Welles redefined Shakespeare in cinema with Macbeth, Othello and, later, Chimes at Midnight. With Throne of Blood and Ran, Akira Kurosawa seemed to fuse himself with Shakespeare to create pictures that were stirring and idiosyncratic, faithful to the source and deeply personal. In the late '80s, Kenneth Branagh started bringing Shakespeare to a new generation of moviegoers with his own version of Henry V, and along the way we had the films of Kosintzev, Zeffirelli, Peter Brook, Aki Kaurismaki and Béla Tarr, among others. But Olivier's Henry V was in its own special category, because it seemed to embody Shakespeare and everything that he meant to English-speaking audiences. Part of the power of the film has to do with the particular moment when it was made. Like Powell-Pressburger's wartime films, Henry V was designed to boost the morale of English audiences, and it was actually released to coincide with the Normandy invasion. Olivier created a glorious, stirring pageant of British culture and history, made in stunning Technicolor. The picture begins in Elizabethan England, as a recreation of a production of Henry V at the Globe Theatre, before it magically opens out to a beautiful storybook version of King Henry's 15th century conquest of France, with designs based on medieval books of hours and a stunning musical score by William Walton. Henry V was made at a moment of real emergency by a team of great artists--in addition to Olivier himself, that includes the Art Director Paul Sheriff, the Costume Designer Roger K. Furse, the DP Robert Krasker, the uncredited Matte Painter W. Percy Day and, among many great actors, Leslie Banks, Felix Aylmer, the great dancer Robert Helpmann, Ernest Thesiger, Leo Genn, Esmond Knight, John Laurie, Niall MacGinnis, Renée Asherson and the great Robert Newton. In other words, a very rare combination of circumstances.

TCM is showing Henry V side by side with Olivier's Hamlet, made just four years later and a vastly different kind of movie in every possible way--shot in deep black and white, moody and unsettling, emotionally and visually claustrophobic, a noir version of the play (it's a shame that they didn't also program his 1955 VistaVision version of Richard III). In 1937, while he was preparing to play Hamlet at the Old Vic, Olivier consulted with Ernest Jones, Sigmund Freud's friend and biographer and the author of an essay called "The Oedipus-Complex as an Explanation of Hamlet's Mystery." When he made this picture a decade later, he was still inspired by Jones--Olivier was only 11 years younger than Eileen Herlie, who he cast as his own mother. It's an extreme, daring idea, a choice that would have been made only by an artist as great as Laurence Olivier.

by Martin Scorsese