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Title: The Hollow Crown: The War of the Roses

Movie: :4stars:
Video: :4.5stars:
Audio: :4stars:
Extras: :2stars:

HTS Overall Score:79

“The Hollow Crown: The War of the Roses” is actually the second in a line of miniseries/TV season (it’s kind of hard to really differentiate between the two sometimes with the odd BBC format) chronicling the major plays of Shakespeare regarding the Kings of England. The first one came out in 2012 and was just titled “The Hollow Crown”, and covered the plays of “Richard the II”, Henry the IV” and “Henry the V”. This time around we’re taking care of the final half of the king trilogies, with “Henry the VI Part 1”, “Henry the VI Part 2” as well as the rise of “Richard the III”.

It’s a little difficult to bring Shakespeare to the modern day screen, as Shakespearean plays have been the inspiration for thousands upon THOUSANDS of films and plots in the cinematic world. Whether that be old fashioned period piece representations, or just taking the ideas and spinning them into animated films *cough*The Lion King*cough*, and even many modern films today are nothing but re-writes of those famous encounters. However, this is the BBC, and the BBC doesn’t need to modernize ANYTHING to get viewers (even though they do have some fun with “Sherlock” in a modern setting). To make matters interesting, “The Hollow Crown” adds in a plethora of talented British actors who bring their own flair to the old screenplays.

Following right up after Henry the V’s death, the English crown is passed on to Henry the VI (played by Tom Sturridge), which is one of the most tumultuous times in History to crown a new king. England is at war with France, and the body count is rising exponentially. Not to mention the fact that the English council is unsure that Henry the VI is worth of succeeding Henry the V. Dissent is brewing and it only gets worse as even his own Uncle, the Duke of Gloucester (Hugh Bonneville) begins to question the naïve young Youth.

With so much bloodshed going on between the French and the English, The Duke of Somerset (Ben Miles) takes on the brilliant idea to persuade the French Lady Margaret (Sophie Okonedo) to wed Henry the VI in an effort to gain some peace between the warring peoples. This works for a time, but the French have no desire to uphold the peace treaty, and the war starts up with a renewed vigor, this time with Lady Margaret on the English side, although her motives soon turn towards an ulterior shine. Now the crown of England is up for grabs and becomes a brutal war for supremacy that is known as “The War of the Roses”.

On one hand we have the Duke of Somerset, who is not only having an affair with Queen Margaret, but also plans on usurping the throne from Henry, whom he believes is too naïve and inexperienced to run the throne. Wearing a red Rose, he stands to tear the crown away and become the next powerful ruler of England. On the other side of the fence stands Richard Plantagenet (Benedict Cumberbatch), who believes that his royal birthright (although being born deformed) makes it so that HE is worthy of throne (and he of course wears the famous white rose). Thus begins a decade’s long civil war that will tear England apart, and cause brother to fight against brother in a conflict that is one of the brutal and bloody civil conquests of the time.

The content here is best served in miniseries format, and giving over 6 hours of content makes it MUCH easier for the plays to come to life as one singular story, rather than cramming them all into their own self-contained film. The shows are basically Broadway plays put to screen, and mimic the styles and machinations of a play rather than typical film making. This is mostly seen in certain scenes where an actor is talking with another character mere feet from the person they are conspiring against without being overheard, or Richard’s constant breaking of the 4th wall to talk to the audience. Some people may get irritated at the 4th wall breaks, but as a lover of Shakespearean plays the communication method is already familiar to me and creates a welcoming environment to those of us who really enjoy stage plays.

The actors give an all-around phenomenal performance, with Benedict Cumberbatch and Ben Miles being the standouts, especially Cumberbatch. His portrayal of the vile King Richard the III (both in his pre king days and after) is incredibly engaging. The language fits the time period and those of you who weren’t raised with classic Shakespearean literature background MAY want to turn on subtitles every once in a while as they get a bit thick and flowery. Still, the characters on screen present a level of emotion that allows their actions to speak for themselves, even if you’re struggling to hear the words spoken on screen.


Not Rated by the MPAA

Video :4.5stars:
“The Hollow Crown” comes to Blu-ray with a VERY nice looking 1.78:1 AVC encoded Blu-ray image, and while it is not exactly on the level of big budget historical epics like “Game of Thrones”, it is certainly an effective looking image. Sharp levels of detail abound throughout the 2 disc set, with over 4 hours of content on the first and a 2 on the second. The show looks very much like a stage production, and seems to be filmed with digital cameras that replicate a glossy and sleek look to the cinematography. Sometimes it’s a bit TOO sleek, and is reminiscent of the smooth motion 120hz features on my televisions at times with panning shots that look too fast and smooth, with faces that resemble 30fps camera. However, that sharp detail is still there in spades, showing off every fleck of dirt and grime on the soldier’s faces, as well as the heavily stylized period piece costumes. Black levels are deep and inky with strong shadow detail, and the overall color scheme seems to take a fairly natural, if not dim, hue.

Audio :4stars:
The 5.1 DTS-HD MA audio track on board the discs is quite satisfactory, but suffers from a bit of anemia in the surround department. You can definitely tell the BBC TV roots in the track as the surround channels seem to really only be there for background support and to accompany the score. It’s not detrimental, but after JUST getting done watching “Game of Thrones” it’s a stark contrast to the exceptional surround usage in a period piece TV show like this one. On the other hand, the rest of the track is fairly impressive, strong LFE support and a good front sound stage. the front heavy mix shows off some exceptional dialog support, with clarity in the vocal range staying strong, despite the heavy Shakespearean accents. LFE pounds away during the battle scenes, and adds some impressive weight to heavy castle doors, or the thudding of horses hooves.

Extras :2stars

• The Making of the Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses
• Deleted Scenes

Overall: :4stars:

“The Hollow Crown: The War of the Roses” is a very faithful adaptation to the old Shakespearean plays, and does so without sacrificing style or tradition for a more modern era. The series plays out very much like a Broadway Shakespeare production on screen, with fantastic acting from all of the BBC actors involved. My wife nearly popped a blood vessel when she saw me reviewing the title (as she’s a Shakespearean actor herself) and the show definitely can appeal to the masses with the wide variety of excellent actors taking part in the show. Some may be a bit put off by old fashioned English vernacular, but it is still very accessible to your average viewer if they’re in any way interested in Shakespeare. Recommended for a watch

Additional Information:

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Juki Dench, Ben Miles
Directed by: Rupert Goold, Richard Eyre, Thea Sharrock
Written by: Ben Power, Rupert Goold, Richard Eyre, William Shakespeare
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1
Studio: Universal
Rated: NR
Runtime: 364 minutes
Blu-Ray Release Date: June 21st, 2016

Buy The Hollow Crown: The War of the Roses On Blu-ray at Amazon

Recommendation: Recommended for a Watch

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