A competent adaptation drawing from Shakespeare’s “Henry VI” plays, though less cohesive and powerful as the earlier “Hollow Crown” adaptations.
Though the name suggests otherwise, this isn’t really a straight adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Henry VI, Part 1”, as it takes and conflates elements from the later “Henry VI” plays. Very understandable, given the three “Henry VI” plays are oddly-structured, and have less traditional pacing than most of Shakespeare’s other plays, with “Part 1” languid and table-setting, and “Part 3” overran with countless stagings of battles. Only “Part 2” really functions like a regular play the way the other history plays do, so meshing together some elements from it into this apparent “Part 1” makes sense well enough. While much is conflated, a lot is removed, unfortunately including the Jack Cade subplot, one of the highlights of these plays.
The chopping and tinkering with the source material seems justified enough, but what ends up as the final product really isn’t as compelling as the earlier “Hollow Crown” adaptations. The production values are high, the cast is skilled (I particularly liked Tom Sturridge’s performance in the titular role, he felt lifted right off the page such as it were), the language (of course) is captivating, but it lacks the cohesion or vision of the earlier entries. It feels like things are being rushed through just to get to the emergence of Richard III, played be Benedict Cumberbatch in the following entries.
It’s a gorgeous adaptation in many ways, but also a stilted one. In its efforts to adapt out some of the odd pacing and extraneous material of the source material, the film feels like it became oddly paced and somewhat extraneous in its own right. Still, a noble effort. I give it three paper crowns, and a white rose.