“A conflict of rich dark reds and Lincoln greens against fishscale greys and arctic blues”*

by chuckofish

Tomorrow is the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, at which the English king, Henry V, and his small army trounced the flower of French knighthood.

a 16th century miniature of the battle

a 16th century miniature depicting the battle

Naturally, the occasion has garnered a fair amount of attention, especially in England. The National Archives in London has a good online exhibit as does Agincourt 600, a “Registered Charity to promote international friendship and understanding and advance knowledge and commemoration of the battle.” The former has posted a number of documents, including what appears to be an excerpt from Holinshed describing the battle:

King Hen(ry) Vth Battaill of Agencourt

The English Battail and the French

Being both sett in a redines to fight ye battail

The constable of France encouraged

his Frenchmen with an eloquent oratie

valliantly to fight for ye honor of France

King Henry yr fifte likewise did sooe

Now King Henry had placed 200 arch-

ers privilely in a lon medow neer

unto ye forward of the French army

but yet separate wth a great dich: and

they whar commanded to keep close till

they had a token given them to shoote.

For those of us who can’t get to the battlefield, don’t find online exhibits particularly edifying, and don’t feel like reading Shakespeare, why not watch a movie? The three best known film versions are, in reverse chronological order, Tom Hiddleston’s Henry V in “The Hollow Crown” 2012 TV series, Kenneth Brannagh’s 1989 film, and Sir Laurence Olivier’s 1944 classic. Here are their respective “St. Crispian’s Day” speeches.

I haven’t actually seen the whole performance, so my comments are provisional. But much as I like Tom Hiddleston, I thought the speech (and particularly the camera work) a bit on the anemic side. It’s still better than Kenneth Brannagh’s movie, though. At least The Hollow Crown made TH look suitably heroic.


I have seen the entire Brannagh film — it didn’t do much for me.

I can’t really say anything positive about that movie. In trying to be “authentic”, Brannagh resorts to bad slow motion re-enactment fighting and lots of grime. And let’s face it, by emphasizing the “war is madness” angle, he misses all the nuance. Shakespeare deserves better.

As for the 1944 version, it’s easy to imagine how stirring it would have been to see, as the Allies prepared to invade France and WWII headed toward its inevitable crescendo.

Yes, the scenery is fake, the armor is tinny and awkward, and Sir Laurence whips through the lines in his own inimitable, velvety-voiced  style, but there’s a purpose and immediacy to his performance that the others lack. Clearly, contemporary events have an impact on actors’ performances and audience reception.

Whichever performance you prefer, take some time to remember “those few, those happy few” and good king Hal (aka Hank Cinq)


Now I’m off to serve lunch at the church bazaar. Have a great weekend!

*John Keegan describing Agincourt in The Face of Battle