Plantagenet: Henry V - True Believers by Mike Walker

Contact Us

Classic Serial on BBC Radio 4

BBC Radio 4, 1 April 2012
Forget the hero of Shakespeare's play or the memory of Olivier portraying the role in the immortal 1944 film; Mike Walker's True Believers was a harsh, uncompromising portrayal of a deeply troubled Henry V (Luke Treadway). Brought up in an unstable environment, in a kingdom torn apart with heresy and rebellion, the young prince suffered a grievous wound in battle. For a time it seemed that he would not survive; but the experience transformed his personality. Once he was a rather likeable young man, valuing his long-standing friendship with Sir John Oldcastle (Nicky Henson); now he had become a ruthless warmonger, who believed in bringing peace to his country at all costs.
Jeremy Mortimer and Sacha Yevtushenko's production unfolded as a narrative told by Henry's widow Catherine (Lydia Leonard), as she walked to the Tower with Thomas of Earlham (James Lailey). In the past she had endured considerable indignities: Hal had only married her for political purposes - to unite Britain and France, and to produce an heir. Love never entered into the relationship: for Hal love was a sign of weakness. 
As the tale unfolded, we learned how Hal's entire life was dictated by an ideal of kingship that required him never to show emotion, to cast aside close friends such as Oldcastle if necessary, and to exercise an authority reminiscent of Divine Right (even though this concept emerged some two centuries after Henry V's death). While this series of "necessary fictions" ensured success in battle, they transformed him into a thoroughly unlikeable person. The Church resented his presumption (as he set himself on a par with God), his wife avoided his company, both in public and private, while his subjects grudgingly accepted his authority (for fear of violent reprisal).
Inspired by Holinshed's Chronicles, Mike Walker's script gave us an insight into the rigours of kingship, but at the same time suggested that justice and heroism should be tempered with mercy. Hal could never understand this, which helps to explain why he was so little mourned back in Britain when he died prematurely while fighting in France.