‘A magnificent film, clearly among Welles’ greatest work’ Roger Ebert
‘A dark masterpiece, shot through with slapstick and sorrow. Magic’ Time Out
‘If I wanted to get into heaven on the basis of movie, it would be Falstaff’ Orson Welles
To celebrate the centenary of Orson Welles’ birth, one of the most radical and groundbreaking of all Shakespeare film adaptations and Welles’ favourite of his features is getting a brand new restored 50th Anniversary Edition (DVD and Blu-ray) from Mr Bongo Films, and also screens at BFI Southbank from 1-3 August.
On the brink of Civil War, King Henry IV (John Gielgud) attempts to consolidate his reign while fretting with unease over his son’s seeming neglect of his royal duties. Hal (Keith Baxter), the young Prince, openly consorts with Sir John Falstaff (Orson Welles) and his company. Hal’s friendship with the knight substitutes for his estrangement from his father. Both Falstaff and the King are old and tired; both rely on Hal for comfort in their final years, while the young Prince, the future Henry V, nurtures his own ambitions…
Based on five of Shakespeare’s plays, this is, in Welles’ own words, ‘a sombre comedy’ and a ‘lament for Merrie England’. It may have come late in his career, but it remains his masterpiece, containing the true and profound essence of both Shakespeare the dramatist and Welles the actor. His Falstaff was the role he was born to play, the embodiment of the richly human, honest and heroic qualities of medieval England whose openness and loyalty eventually become the very cause of his own destruction.
The talented supporting cast includes John Gielgud, Keith Baxter, Jeanne Moreau, Fernando Rey, Margaret Rutherford and Ralph Richardson as the narrator. The film’s harrowing war scenes have proven especially influential, cited in Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V and Mel Gibson’s Braveheart