Film Review: Henry V, Shakespearean Play Filmed by Director Kenneth Branagh

by DerdriuMarriner

William Shakespeare's history play Henry V gets its best, grittiest filming in the 1989 release by a master of his craft, Kenneth Branagh, and his perfect match of cast and crew.

England's fifth Henry is a hell-raising Prince Hal

Henry V assumes dramatic, historical, and literary significance as the sixth -- in terms of royal chronologies -- of William Shakespeare’s (April 23, 1564? – April 23, 1616) English history plays, along with:
• King John;
• Edward III;
• Richard II;
• Henry IV, Part 1, Part 2;
• Henry VI, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3;
• Richard III; and
• Henry VIII.

It breaks ground with its world-famous, world-respected cinematographic adaptation in 1989 by Sir Kenneth Charles Branagh as a movie whose filming seamlessly matches cast with costumes, dialogues, and events and crew with props and venues. As a faithful rendition of its namesake play, the action/biography drama concentrates on a young king’s winning of a critical battle and a royal betrothal.

Henry V: late 16th or early 17th century oil on panel by unknown artist

National Portrait Gallery, London
National Portrait Gallery, London

England's fifth Henry is a results-oriented young king


Henry V (Kenneth Branagh) deems significant:

  • Archbishop Henry Chichele (1364? – April 12, 1443) of Canterbury’s (Charles Kay) and Bishop John Fordham (died November 19, 1425) of Ely’s (Alec McCowen) advice;
  • Duke Thomas Beaufort (1377? – December 31, 1426?) of Exeter’s (Brian Blessed) and Earl Ralph Neville (1364? – October 21, 1425) of Westmoreland’s (Paul Gregory) counsels; and
  • Montjoy’s (Christopher Ravenscroft) delivery of tennis balls from Louis (January 22, 1397 – December 18, 1415), France’s Dauphin (Michael Maloney).

He expects France’s throne as:

  • Isabella’s (1295 – August 22, 1358) great-great-grandson; and
  • Philip IV’s (1268 – November 29, 1314) great-great-great-grandson.

He finds just Earl Richard of Cambridge’s (Fabian Cartwright), Sir Thomas Grey’s (Jay Villiers), and Lord Henry Scroop’s (Stephen Simms) beheadings in August 1415. 


Catherine de Valois learns English from her gentlewoman Alice in a charming scene in Henry V: ". . . dites-moi, si je parle bien: de hand, de fingres, et de nails" (Act III, Scene iv) ~

"Queen Katherine of France": illustration by Laura Theresa Epps Alma-Tadema (April 16, 1852 - August 15, 1909)
One of 21 Shakespeare heroines commissioned by The Graphic, exhibited in 1888, and printed in March 1, 1890 issue.
One of 21 Shakespeare heroines commissioned by The Graphic, exhibited in 1888, and printed in March 1, 1890 issue.

England's fifth Henry is a risk-taking, spirituality-bound monarch


Henry goes from forcing the Governor of Harfleur’s (David Lloyd Meredith) surrender to:

  • allowing Lieutenant Bardolph (Richard Briers) to hang for looting Calais-area churches;
  • consulting with Dukes Humphrey (October 3, 1390 – February 23, 1447) of Gloucester (Simon Shepherd) and John (June 20, 1389 – September 14, 1435) of Bedford (James Larkin), and Sir Thomas Erpingham (1355? – 1428); and
  • disguising himself around Bates (Shaun Prendergast), Pistol (Robert Stephens), and Williams (Michael Williams).

He heads into battle after:

  • calculating Charles VI’s (December 3, 1368 – October 21, 1422) forces outnumbering his 5:1; and
  • invoking St. Crispin.

He is victorious because of:

  • Charles d’Albret (December 1368 - October 25, 1415), Constable of France’s death during cavalry charges; and
  • English archers and counter-chargers. 


Henry V - Speech - Eve of Saint Crispin's Day - HD ~ King Henry V: "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers"

Uploaded to YouTube on May 3, 2009 by technicalmark ~ URL:

England's fifth Henry is unforgettable then and now


Henry then joins:

  • Captain Fluellen’s (Ian Holm) lamenting luggage-boy Robin’s (Christian Bale) death; and
  • delegations negotiating and signing on May 21, 1420 the Treaty of Troyes.

He knows that Katharine (October 27, 1401 – January 3, 1437) will be a beautiful Queen even if her English needs work. So Henry V lets loose 137 culturally enriching, educationally entertaining minutes of European battles and betrothals, thanks to:

  • Michael Bradsell, editor;
  • Kenneth Branagh, director, screenwriter;
  • Patrick Doyle, music director, singer of Non nobis, Domine, sed nomini tua da gloriam (Not unto us, O Lord, but to thy name give the glory);
  • Derek Jacobi, narrator;
  • Kenneth MacMillan, cinematographer;  
  • Bruce Sharman, producer; and
  • Venues at Crowlink, East Sussex, and Shepperton, Surrey, England.  


Henry V: Non Nobis and Te Deum ~ King Henry V: "God fought for us."

Uploaded to YouTube on April 19, 2008 by Martin Solomon ~ URL:



My special thanks to:

  • Talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the Internet;
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for superior on-campus and on-line resources.


Henry V with Kenneth Branagh, Derek Jacobi, Paul Scofield, Emma Thompson et al. ~ available via Amazon

Academy Award winning adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Henry V by Kenneth Branagh (in his masterful directorial debut). Once an undisciplined prince, Henry has matured into the powerful King of England and has set off on a campaign to conquer France.
Henry V [Blu-ray]
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

Kenneth Branagh as Henry V (1989): stretched canvas print available via AllPosters

Kenneth Branagh, Henry V (1989)

Me and my purrfectly purrfect Maine coon kittycat, Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine

Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 03/23/2015, DerdriuMarriner
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