The films — chronicling a bloody tale of family, politics and power — tell the rise and fall of three kings and how their destiny shaped English history. Richard II (Ben Whishaw) is a vain, self-indulgent man who rules with little regard for his people’s welfare. He is ultimately overthrown by his cousin Bolingbroke (Rory Kinnear), who ascends the throne as Henry IV (Jeremy Irons). Henry IV’s reign is marred by his own guilt over Richard’s death, civil war, and the gnawing fear that his son Hal (Tom Hiddleston) is a total wastrel unworthy of the throne. When Hal comes to the throne as Henry V, he is left to bury the ghosts of his father’s past while fighting both the French forces as well as his own inner demons.
Directed by Rupert Goold (Richard II), Richard Eyre (Henry IV, Parts I and II) and Thea Sharrock (Henry V), The Hollow Crown features some of the most pre-eminent Shakespearean actors of our time. The kings are played by Ben Whishaw, Jeremy Irons and Tom Hiddleston respectively, supported by a phenomenal cast including Rory Kinnear, Patrick Stewart, David Suchet, David Morrissey in Richard II, Simon Russell Beale, Michelle Dockery, Julie Walters and Maxine Peake in Henry IV and John Hurt, Anton Lesser and Paterson Joseph in Henry V. The plays were filmed on location in England between summer 2011 and spring 2012 and are all set in their authentic medieval period. The series premiered to rapturous reviews in the U.K., and was honored with BAFTA Television Awards for Whishaw (Leading Actor) and Simon Russell Beale (Supporting Actor), BAFTA Craft Awards for Original Television Music (Stephen Warbeck) and Sound (Fiction, Richard II), and an RTS Programme Award for Single Drama (Richard II).
Pippa Harris, who serves as executive producer with co-executive producer Sam Mendes at Neal Street Productions (makers of Call the Midwife), explains, “The Hollow Crown shows the trials and tribulations and the murderous backdrop behind our own history. Whilst these four plays collectively say so much about Britain, the global appeal of Shakespeare is never-ending. Our phenomenal cast and crew have brought a vivid and inspirational edge to Shakespeare for a worldwide audience.”
Downton Abbey producer Gareth Neame, executive producer for NBCUniversal International and managing director of Carnival Films (a division of NBCU International) says, “This is an exciting new cycle of Shakespeare history plays, with stunning performances by a range of wonderful actors. NBCUniversal International is delighted to have been a part of bringing these ambitious productions to the screen.”
David Horn, executive producer of Great Performances, affirms, “The Hollow Crown continues our series’ commitment to bringing exceptional Shakespeare performances to the series, following, as it does, our recent productions of King Lear, Hamlet and Macbeth, and of course, THIRTEEN’s Shakespeare Uncovered series earlier this year, which featured tantalizing clips from these very productions which we’re now so pleased to be showing in full.”
Richard II (September 20, 8pm)
KING RICHARD (Ben Whishaw) is called upon to settle a dispute between his cousin HENRY BOLINGBROKE (Rory Kinnear) and THOMAS MOWBRAY (James Purefoy). RICHARD calls for a duel, but then halts it just before swords clash. Both men are banished from the realm. RICHARD visits JOHN OF GAUNT (Patrick Stewart), BOLINGBROKE’s father, who, in the throes of death, reprimands the king. After seizing GAUNT’s money and lands, RICHARD leaves for wars against the rebels in Ireland. BOLINGBROKE returns to reclaim his inheritance. Supported by his allies, NORTHUMBERLAND (David Morrissey) and the DUKE OF YORK (David Suchet), BOLINGBROKE takes RICHARD prisoner and lays claim to the throne.
Henry IV, Part I (September 27, 8pm)
The heir to the throne, PRINCE HAL (Tom Hiddleston), defies his father, KING HENRY (Jeremy Irons), by spending his time at MISTRESS QUICKLY’s (Julie Walters) tavern in the company of the dissolute FALSTAFF (Simon Russell Beale) and his companions. The King is threatened by a rebellion led by HAL’s rival, HOTSPUR (Joe Armstrong), HOTSPUR’s father NORTHUMBERLAND (Alun Armstrong) and his uncle WORCESTER (David Hayman). In the face of this danger to the state, PRINCE HAL joins his father to defeat the rebels at the BATTLE OF SHREWSBURY and kill HOTSPUR in hand-to-hand combat. Michelle Dockery plays HOTSPUR’s wife, KATE PERCY.
Henry IV, Part II (October 4, 8pm)
In the aftermath of the Battle of Shrewsbury, NORTHUMBERLAND learns of the death of his son. THE LORD CHIEF JUSTICE (Geoffrey Palmer) attempts, on behalf of the increasingly frail king, to separate FALSTAFF from PRINCE HAL. The rebels continue to plot insurrection. FALSTAFF is sent to recruit soldiers and takes his leave of his mistress, DOLL TEARSHEET (Maxine Peake). The rebel forces are overcome. This brings comfort to the dying king, who is finally reconciled to his son. FALSTAFF rushes to HAL’s coronation with expectations of high office, only to be rebuffed by the former prince who has now become HENRY V.
Henry V (October 11, 8pm)
HENRY V has settled onto the throne and has the makings of a fine king. The French AMBASSADOR (Jérémie Covillault) brings a challenge from the FRENCH DAUPHIN. Inspired by his courtiers, including EXETER (Anton Lesser) and YORK (Paterson Joseph), HENRY swears that he will, with all force, answer this challenge. The CHORUS (John Hurt) tells of England’s preparations for war, and HENRY’s army sails for France. After EXETER’s diplomacy is rebuffed by the FRENCH KING (Lambert Wilson), HENRY lays a heavy siege and captures Harfleur. The French now take HENRY’s claims seriously and challenge the English army to battle at Agincourt. HENRY and his meager forces prove victorious against all odds.