Shakespeare without the Shakespeare? Why?

Promotional image from "The King."

Promotional image from “The King.”

So I clicked on this new movie on Netflix called “The King,” curious to know which king. The promo blurb gave me a clue:

Yesterday, he was a drunken fool. Today, he’s king…

Sounds like Henry V, right? Well, it is.

And here’s the weird thing about it… I watched a few minutes, and rather than being some historical Henry V freshly drawn from independent sources — or fantastical one drawn from the writer’s imagination — it’s basically (so far) the Hal from the plays (I say “plays,” plural, because I can’t recall which bits are in the Henry IV plays, and which in “Henry V.” I’m especially mixed up for having watched “The Hollow Crown” straight through.). It even has Falstaff in it, a fictional character invented by Shakespeare. I haven’t watched long enough to see whether Doll Tearsheet is mentioned.

So, it’s “Henry V,” only with no iambic pentameter. In other words, a wonderful play, without the thing that makes it wonderful.

You know, sometimes I feel like I get popular culture, and I really get into it, but other times I don’t. This is one of the other times…

Anyway, here’s a dose of the real thing:

33 thoughts on “Shakespeare without the Shakespeare? Why?

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    And don’t tell me it’s because the kids today are too stupid to follow Shakespeare. I won’t have it!

    We learned it, and we’re richer for having done so.

    Why, just this morning, I saw where Maureen Dowd used that educational advantage to ‘splain something about unchanging human nature to millennials:

    I get that young people are digital natives, even cyborgs. But I had to offer a riposte to Shawn that, while society can be reshaped, human nature is immutable. What I learned from studying Shakespeare is that the primary colors of emotions carry through the centuries.

    There will always be vengeful exes and envious allies and ruthless opponents and double-crossing friends. Whether the messages are being carried by pigeons or pixels, you have to protect yourself — and your data. Don’t let our shiny new tools blind you to the fact that some horrible truths about humanity never change….

    Well said, Maureen. Even if it’s not in iambic pentameter…

    Reply
    1. David T

      “And don’t tell me it’s because the kids today are too stupid to follow Shakespeare. I won’t have it!”

      What app do you prefer they use? Can they watch it on Instagram in 30 second intervals? Because that’s about the extent of their attention span.

      I remember having to endure that 3-4 week period back in the early 80’s, as if I didn’t dread going to English class enough as it was.

      Reply
      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        So let me ask you — as someone who doesn’t enjoy Shakespeare, would you be likely to watch this movie?

        Because I’m trying to figure out if there actually is a target audience for this. I suppose it would be someone who likes history but doesn’t like literature. I’m wondering how many people there are like that…

        Reply
        1. David T

          There is nothing coming out of Hollywood right now that I want to watch.

          When does Fast and Furious 24 come out? Let’s dig up Eddie Murphy, that’ll be hilarious. How about yet another Star Wars movie. Maybe a remake of Midway, this time with the most CGI ever used in a film. What is Will Smith putting out this year? Then there’s Mr. Rogers…

          Reply
          1. Barry

            Lots of good stuff coming out

            Bombshell -about the Fox News sexual assault mess. Getting great reviews.

            Richard Jewell- (Clint Eastwood). -looks fantastic.

            A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood – Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers (Oscar buzz)

            The Irishman – Oscar buzz – reviews look great

            The Lighthouse – with on of my favs Willem Dafoe

            Reply
          2. Bryan Caskey

            I’m with you on being pessimistic about the new Midway remake. From the trailer, you can tell the movie covers the attack on Pearl Harbor and the Doolittle Raid, which means that a good portion of the movie won’t be devoted to the actual battle of Midway. Accordingly, it’s going to have to gloss over a lot of the details of tactics and planning. They might as well toss in a scene of Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, and just call the movie Highlights of WWII in the Pacific.

            On the other hand, I’m toying with the idea of going to see Ford vs. Ferrari in theaters, as that looks like it will be a fun one. Here’s the trailer.

            My five-year-old daughter is excited about Frozen II.

            Reply
  2. Mr. Smith

    Looks like another gloomy exercise involving men speaking in gruff, menacing whispers, women in dispirited undertones, everybody wearing drear, doleful looks together with the occasional obligatory sword slinging in sepia-colored settings.

    Reply
      1. Mr. Smith

        Oh well, I actually prefer the dirtied up look over the Technicolor garishness of the Errol Flynn era. But it seems like filmmakers have gotten stuck at the opposite end of the spectrum. I suppose it’s mainly because audiences tend to prefer the bloody blockbuster over the gentle pastoral. The former likes to drape itself in shades of black, grey and brown, while the latter leaves room for natural greens and sunnier weather.

        Reply
        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Yeah, I agree about the 50s garishness.

          Frankly, with a handful of exceptions, I think Hollywood should have shut down from about 1950 to the mid-60s. They just did not CARE during that time. I watch movies from that period and wonder: was there a director involved at ALL? Did no one ever say, that performance (or that lighting or that set or that camera angle) is completely unacceptable — try again?

          It doesn’t look like it.

          Everything looked like exactly what it was — something shot on a cheap sound stage….

          Reply
          1. Barry

            “ I think Hollywood should have shut down from about 1950 to the mid-60s.”

            Oh good gracious. What a goofy standard. Some of the best movies of all time were from just the 50s and early 60s.

            Splendor in the Grass
            The Caine Mutiny
            A Place in The Sun
            Rear Window
            High Noon
            Singin’ in the Rain
            From Here To Eternity
            Shane
            On The Waterfront
            Brigadoon
            Rebel Without a Cause
            Bad Day at Black Rock
            Guys and Dolls
            A Face in the Crowd
            Witness For the Prosecution
            Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

            Reply
            1. Bryan Caskey

              Also from the 50’s Decade:

              Bridge on the River Kwai (an all time favorite of mine, and lots of other people)
              Vertigo (Hitchcock’s best?)
              The Ten Commandments (a classic)
              Cinderella (Still beloved by children today)
              Ben-Hur
              Sabrina (Way better than the remake from 1995)
              North by Northwest (another great Hitchcock Movie)
              Twelve Angry Men (another classic)

              You can’t write off a whole decade, man.

              Reply
              1. Barry

                Those are terrific. In my brief list above I just got tired of typing them out. I watched North by Northwest again a few weeks ago.

                Reply
            2. Brad Warthen Post author

              Exceptions to the rule, gentlemen. Exceptions to the rule.

              The fact remains that while you can see bad stuff today, too, the average, everyday output for large or small screen is light years ahead of the everyday junk we saw during that period. Especially the acting and production values…

              Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed movies like “Hercules, Unchained” as a kid. But it WAS awful.

              OK, sorry, that wasn’t Hollywood. But it happened to pop into my head. I have fond memories of watching those at the Variedades theater in Guayaquil, Ecuador. It was in Italian with Spanish subtitles (which enabled me to understand the dialogue, such as it was). I’d sit there on those wooden benches (it cost the equivalent of 2 cents to get in) eating banana chips that were fried right in the same room where the show was going on, and washing them down with Cokes by the bottle (another 2 cents).

              Then my buddy Tony and I would grab bamboo scraps from nearby construction sites and sword-fight all the way home…

              Reply
          2. Mr. Smith

            Good acting, dialog and story will overcome a cheap sound stage almost every time.
            You just have to adjust your expectations.
            In fact there were MANY solid films made in the 1950s and 60s. Not outstanding, but solidly good. Lots are available on YouTube. Others, like the 5-disk set of Peter Sellers movies made in England between 1958 and 1961 that I watched recently, I find at the local library.
            But no, most folks want to be wowed with fantastic special effects and technical dazzle. Characters building a story made largely of words is thought stodgy and slow nowadays. To me, it’s a breath of fresh air.

            Reply
                1. Mr. Smith

                  Closer. But not really what I’m thinking of, especially since it began as a play.

                  I’m thinking of films that weren’t real standouts and have since been all but forgotten — something along the lines of, say, No Down Payment, from 1957. A look into the then still new life in suburbia:

                2. Brad Warthen Post author

                  I know it’s anti-intellectual of me, but aren’t all films about suburbia pretty depressing? Unless, of course, we’re talking “The Graduate?”

                3. Mr. Smith

                  Since when does “being anti-intellectual” = “uncool”?

                  Seems to me, ’round these parts it’s almost de rigueur if you wanna fit in. Which makes it practically the essence of cool.

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