An Age of Kings, Part 1: The Hollow Crown

Directed by Michael Hayes, released in 1960

Summary Two and a half stars out of five

A sixty-minute black-and-white episode in a made-for-television production of a cycle of Shakespeare's the War of the Roses history plays. The first half of Richard II is a straight-forward and traditional telling, well-spoken and acted with speed and clarity. More a filmed stage play than a cinematic endeavor, with minimal notable production elements but with multiple cameras and musical scoring. Interesting and dramatic but lacking in visual excitement.


Directed by Michael Hayes. An Age of Kings Episode 1.


David William (Richard II), Edgar Wreford (Gaunt), Tom Fleming (Bolingbroke), Noel Johnson (Norfolk), David Andrews (Bushy), Terence Lodge (Bagot), Jerome Willis (Greene), Julian Glover (Lord Marshal), John Greenwood (Aumerle), Geoffrey Bayldon (York), Juliet Cooke (Queen), George A. Cooper (Northumberland), Sean Connery (Harry Percy), Patrick Garland (Scroop).


The first sixty-minute episode of Michael Hayes' An Age of Kings is part one of Shakespeare's Richard II, entitled The Hollow Crown. Shot on film in black-and-white and originally aired by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in early 1960, Hayes' production is more a filmed staging than a cinematic exercise. Hayes begins with Richard moving from his chamber to a council room amid trumpet fanfare, joined by Gaunt and a crowd of standing advisors to discuss the conflict between Bolingbroke and Mowbray. David William's effete Richard - chin-bearded and mustached, blondish in robe and necklace - is mannered but not prissy, intelligently well-spoken but not majestic, and he seems overwhelmed by the stern oaths and vitriol of the combatants, Bolingbroke a big and dark-haired Earl and Mowbray blustering and bearded. William's Richard first attempts to laugh off the dispute - "our doctors say this is no month to bleed" - but the nobles continue to argue heatedly, even ignoring royal commands. Richard must rise and shout - "we were not born to sue but to command!" - and the scene fades to black, having effectively demonstrated Richard's ineffectual personality.

Hayes excises the 1.2 scene between Gaunt and the Duchess and more importantly the explicit guilt of Richard and Mowbray in the death of the Duke of Gloucester. The choice renders William's King more a tragic victim, although during the previous scene a jarringly quick close-up of Richard at the charge the Duke of Gloucester was murdered provides a less-than-subtle clue. Hayes cuts to a furry-robed Richard entering 1.3 to another fanfare and rising to a throne atop a viewing platform. Mowbray and Bolingbroke then enter singly - Bolingbroke pointedly to the applause and cheers of the public crowd - and after more posturing and declaiming, Bolingbroke receives the blessing from Gaunt that concludes with a close-up of the concerned-looking Mowbray. Hayes moves in slowly for another close-up of the seated Richard, who looks furtively back and forth as if at a tennis match before throwing down his warder to halt the duel. Richard's banishment of them concludes with a slow fade on Bolingbroke proclaiming himself "a true born Englishman."

Hayes' middle scenes mildly indicate the near-sighted decision-making of Richard, with the 1.4 laughter at court regarding Bolingbroke's banishment then the King's glee at the news of the sickness of old Gaunt: the court appears shocked - "my liege!" - and shake their heads at his wish Gaunt pass quickly. Edgar Wreford's 2.1 dialogue with his brother York is an early highlight - "this sceptered Isle" - of the episode, as is his rising to shout at Richard ("landlord of England!") and condemn his financial practices. William's Richard absorbs the public scorn, although he spasms guiltily at the mention of "my brother Gloucester!" and after Gaunt raises an accusing finger, the old man falls backward into York's arms. Drumbeats and a tolling bell indicate the old advisor's passing, but Richard is unsympathetic and purposeful - "so much for that...and now for our Irish war" - leaving behind a milling group of nobles who become conspirators against him.

Northumberland, gnawing on a chicken leg, and Bolingbroke - now mustached - receive good news regarding their forces from a young Sean Connery as Hotspur. Hayes contrasts the good news against the previous sequence, in which Bushy, Bagot, and Greene receive bad news regarding the public's loyalty to Richard - a servant drops a platter and rushes off to join the rebels - and plan to flee themselves. The heroic Bolingbroke, despite being upbraided by the blindfolded York ("uncle me no uncle") enjoys the support of his nobles, who mill around and shout encouragement, but Hayes begins to create an ominous tone as Bolingbroke plots to root out "the caterpillars of the commonwealth," his camera zooming in for an extreme close-up of York and his direct-to-the-audience comment about being "past care." Hayes dissolves the scene directly into 3.1 as the caterpillars themselves kneel and snivel before the kingly rebel. Background noise and murmuring can be heard as Bolingbroke addresses York, then praying in Latin and a chopping noise to signal the executions.

Hayes concludes The Hollow Crown with a nearly fourteen-minute tour de force from William as the returning Richard. Manic-depressive by nature, he drops to his knees amid sound effects of bird cries and crashing surf, taking a handful of sand and exclaiming about the nature of England. Upon the news that the Welsh have dispersed, however, he suddenly appears crestfallen and ill - "all souls that will be safe, fly from my side" - and must be cheered by his few supporters. William's Richard rallies himself ("awake thy coward majesty!"), only to be buffeted again by news York has joined Bolingbroke - "death will have his day" - then re-rising in anger against the supposedly traitorous Bushy, Bagot, and Greene ("three Judases!"). The manic mood changes are all poetry and body language - William rarely changes expression - but overall quite effective and a dramatically powerful conclusion to the episode. Richard finally succumbs and kneels ("of comfort no man speak") then rises slowly to an extreme close-up as he speaks directly to Hayes' camera about "Bolingbroke's fair day." The camera then pulls away to a trumpet fanfare as Richard's supporters walk away from his side one by one and the television production credits roll. William's Richard stands with head down, but turns his chin up pointedly before the credits conclude.