An Age of Kings

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An Age of Kings
An Age of Kings.jpg
North American DVD cover
Genre Drama, Tragedy, History
Created by Peter Dews
Developed by Eric Crozier
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Michael Hayes
Theme music composer Arthur Bliss
Composer(s) Chrisopher Whelen
Country of origin United Kingdom
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 1
No. of episodes 15
Production
Producer(s) Peter Dews
Camera setup Multi-camera
Production company(s) BBC Television
Distributor
  • 2 Entertain (North American DVD)
  • Illuminations (European DVD)
Broadcast
Original channel BBC Television Service
Picture format Black-and-white, 4:3
Audio format Monaural
Original run 28 April 1960 (1960-04-28) – 17 November 1960 (1960-11-17)

An Age of Kings is a fifteen-part serial adaptation of the eight sequential history plays of William Shakespeare (Richard II, 1 Henry IV, 2 Henry IV, Henry V, 1 Henry VI, 2 Henry VI, 3 Henry VI and Richard III), produced by the BBC in 1960. At the time, the show was the most ambitious Shakespearean television/film adaptation ever made, and was a huge critical and commercial success in both the UK and North America.

Introduction[edit]

The concept for the series originated in 1959 with Peter Dews, a veteran BBC producer and director, who was inspired by a 1951 Anthony Quayle directed production of the Henriad at the Theatre Royal and a 1953 Douglas Seale directed repertory cast production of the three parts of Henry VI at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre and subsequently, The Old Vic.[1] An Age of Kings was the most conceptually ambitious Shakespeare project ever filmed at the time, containing over 600 speaking roles, and requiring thirty weeks of rehearsal prior to shooting. Each episode cost roughly £4,000. Adapter Eric Crozier cut the text of the eight plays into sixty, seventy, seventy-five and eighty minute episodes, which each episode roughly corresponding to half of each play. The only exception to this was 1 Henry VI, which was reduced to a single hour-long episode.[2]

Dews sourced most of his cast from The Old Vic, using many of the same actors who had appeared in Seale's production, although in different roles (Paul Daneman for example, played Henry VI for Seale, but played Richard III in Age of Kings). Dews also used actors with whom he had worked whilst directing undergraduate plays at Oxford University. He gave the job of directing to his assistant, Michael Hayes.[2] The initial plan was for the series to be the inaugural production in the BBC's newly built BBC Television Centre in London, but when the studios opened, the series wasn't ready, and was instead broadcast from the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith.[2] Peter Dews described the set as "a large permanent structure; platforms, steps, corridors, pillars, and gardens, which will house nearly all the plays' action and which will, despite its outward realism, be not very far from Shakespeare's "unworthy scaffold"."[3] The entire production was shot with four cameras running at any given time. For battle scenes, a cyclorama was used as a backdrop, obscured with smoke. Almost the entire series was shot in medium and close ups. All ten episodes were broadcast live,[4] and a 16mm "telerecording" was made by literally filming a television screen.[5]

Many of the episodes ended with wordless pseudo-teasers for the following episode. For example, "The Deposing of the King" ends with a shot of Northumberland's dagger stabbed into Henry IV's paperwork, visually alluding to his later rebellion. "Signs of War" ends with a shot of a signpost reading "Agincourt", alluding to the upcoming battle in the following episode. "The Sun in Splendour" ends with George, Duke of Clarence almost falling into a vat of wine, only to be saved by his brother, Richard, who looks deviously at the camera and smiles, alluding to his subsequent murder. "The Dangerous Brother" ends with Richard watching the sleeping Princes in the Tower before smiling to himself and then blowing out a candle, again alluding to his planned murder. Head of BBC drama Michael Barry referred to these "teasers" by explaining that "a strengthened purpose is added to the narrative when it is wholly seen, and we are able to look forward to 'what happens next'."[6]

The series was a huge success, with an average viewing audience of three million in the UK. The Times hailed the production as "monumental; a landmark in the BBC's Shakespearian tradition."[7] The series went on to win the British Guild of Directors' award for "Excellence in Directing" and the Peabody Award in the US.[8]

The episodes[edit]

"Richard II: The Hollow Crown"[edit]

  • First transmitted: 28 April 1960
  • Running time: 60 minutes
  • Content: Richard II Acts 1, 2 and Act 3, Scenes 1 and 2 (up to Richard conceding defeat despite the protests of Carlisle, Scroop and Aumerle).

"Richard II: The Deposing of a King"[edit]

  • First transmitted: 12 May 1960
  • Running time: 60 minutes
  • Content: Richard II from Act 3, Scene 3 onwards (beginning with York chiding Northumberland for not referring to Richard as "King").

"Henry IV: Rebellion from the North"[edit]

  • First transmitted: 26 May 1960
  • Running time: 80 minutes
  • Content: 1 Henry IV Acts 1 and 2 (up to Prince Hal expressing his disdain for the war).

"Henry IV: The Road to Shrewsbury"[edit]

  • First transmitted: 9 June 1960
  • Running time: 70 minutes
  • Content: 1 Henry IV from Act 3, Scene 1 onwards (beginning with the strategy meeting between Hotspur, Mortimer and Glendower).

"Henry IV: The New Conspiracy"[edit]

  • First transmitted: 23 June 1960
  • Running time: 60 minutes
  • Content: 2 Henry IV Acts 1 and 2 (up to Prince Hal being summoned to court).

"Henry IV: Uneasy Lies the Head"[edit]

  • First transmitted: 7 July 1960
  • Running time: 75 minutes
  • Content: 2 Henry IV from Act 3, Scene 1 onwards (beginning with Henry IV recalling Richard II's prediction of civil war).

"Henry V: Signs of War"[edit]

  • First transmitted: 21 July 1960
  • Running time: 60 minutes
  • Content: Henry V Acts 1, 2 and 3 (up to the French yearning for what they feel will be an easy victory at Agincourt).

"Henry V: The Band of Brothers"[edit]

  • First transmitted: 4 August 1960
  • Running time: 60 minutes
  • Content: Henry V from Act 4, Scene 0 onwards (beginning with the Chorus describing Henry's undercover surveillance of his camp).

"Henry VI: The Red Rose and the White"[edit]

  • First transmitted: 25 August 1960
  • Running time: 60 minutes
  • Content: a heavily condensed version of 1 Henry VI.
  • Alterations: as this is the only episode in the series which adapts an entire play, truncation is much more liberal here than elsewhere. The most obvious difference is the complete removal of Talbot, the ostensible protagonist of the play. The characters of Burgundy and Edmund Mortimer have also been removed, and dialogue is heavily cut from every scene. All of the battle scenes from France have also been removed and the episode concentrates almost entirely on the political disintegration in England.

"Henry VI: The Fall of a Protector"[edit]

  • First transmitted: 8 September 1960
  • Running time: 60 minutes
  • Content: 2 Henry VI Acts 1, 2 and Act 3, Scene 1 (up to York's soliloquy regarding the fact that he now has troops at his disposal and his revelation of his plans to use Jack Cade to instigate a popular rebellion).
  • Alterations: Peter Thump does not kill Thomas Horner during the combat; he compels him to confess by sitting on him, and Horner is promptly arrested.

"Henry VI: The Rabble from Kent"[edit]

  • First transmitted: 22 September 1960
  • Running time: 60 minutes
  • Content: 2 Henry VI from Act 3, Scene 2 onwards (beginning with the murder of the Duke of Gloucester).
  • Alterations: the murder of Gloucester is shown, whereas in the text, it happens off-stage. The characters of both George Plantagenet and Edmund Plantagenet are introduced just prior to the First Battle of St Albans, whereas in the text, neither character is introduced until 3 Henry VI (Edmund in Act 1, Scene 3; George in Act 2, Scene 2). Additionally, Edmund is played by an adult actor, whereas in the text, he is a child. Buckingham is killed on screen. In the text, his fate remains unknown until the opening lines of 3 Henry VI, where it is revealed he was killed by Edward.

"Henry VI: The Morning's War"[edit]

  • First transmitted: 6 October 1960
  • Running time: 60 minutes
  • Content: 3 Henry VI Acts 1, 2 and Act 3, Scenes 1 and 2 (up to Richard's soliloquy wherein he vows to attain the crown).
  • Alterations: the character of Edmund, Earl of Rutland is played by an adult actor, whereas in the text, he is a child. Additionally, Margaret is present during his murder, and we see her wipe his blood on the handkerchief which she later gives to York; in the text, Margaret does not witness the murder. During the Battle of Towton, Richard fights and kills Clifford, whereas in the text, they fight, but Clifford flees and is mortally wounded off-stage when hit by an arrow.

"Henry VI: The Sun in Splendour"[edit]

  • First transmitted: 20 October 1960
  • Running time: 60 minutes
  • Content: 3 Henry VI from Act 3, Scene 3 onwards (beginning with Margaret's visit to Louis XI of France).
  • Alterations: Edward is rescued from his imprisonment by Richard and Lord Stafford, whereas in the play, he is rescued by Richard, Lord Hastings and Lord Stanley. Warwick is killed during the Battle of Barnet by George, whereas in the text, he is carried onto stage mortally wounded by Edward. Also, the end of the episode differs slightly from the end of the play. After Edward expresses his wish that all conflict has ceased, a large celebration ensues. As the credits role, Richard and George stand to one side, and George almost slips into a barrel of wine, only to be saved by Richard. As George walks away, Richard muses silently to himself and then smiles deviously at the camera.

"Richard III: The Dangerous Brother"[edit]

  • First transmitted: 3 November 1960
  • Running time: 60 minutes
  • Content: Richard III Acts 1, 2 and Act 3, Scene 1 (up to Richard promising Buckingham the Dukedom of Hereford).
  • Alterations: the character of Lord Grey is not portrayed as Queen Elizabeth's son, but simply as a kinsman; only Dorset is her son. In the text, although there is some confusion and overlapping regarding the two characters in the early scenes, in the latter half of the play, they are both depicted as her sons. As the closing credits role, there is a scene of Richard watching the Princes sleeping; there is no such scene in the text.

"Richard III: The Boar Hunt"[edit]

  • First transmitted: 17 November 1960
  • Running time: 75 minutes
  • Content: Richard III from Act 3, Scene 1 onwards (beginning with Stanley's messenger arriving at Hasting's house).
  • Alterations: the scrivener's lamentation regarding the illegality of Hasting's execution is presented in the form of a plea as he attempts to convince two citizens to join him and speak out against Richard's actions; in the text, his speech is delivered as a soliloquy. The two priests between whom Richard stands as the Lord Mayor urges him to become King are not real priests, but two servants dressed up as priests. As Richard ascends to the throne for the first time, he stumbles, and has Buckingham help him into the chair; there is no such scene in the play. As in most filmed versions up this point (such as the 1912 The Life and Death of King Richard the Third and Laurence Olivier's 1955 Richard III), the ghosts appear only to Richard, whereas in the text they appear to both Richard and Richmond.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Lennox, Patricia (2001). "Henry VI: A Television History in Four Parts". In Pendleton, Thomas A. Henry VI: Critical Essays. London: Routledge. p. 237. ISBN 9780815338925. 
  2. ^ a b c Senter, Al (2009). An Age of Kings: Viewing Notes (booklet included with DVD box-set). London: BBC Video. 
  3. ^ Quoted in Smith, Emma (2007). "Shakespeare Serialized: An Age of Kings". In Shaughnessy, Robert. The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare and Popular Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 140. ISBN 9780521605809. 
  4. ^ Lennox, Patricia (2001). "Henry VI: A Television History in Four Parts". In Pendleton, Thomas A. Henry VI: Critical Essays. London: Routledge. p. 238. ISBN 9780815338925. 
  5. ^ Lennox, Patricia (2001). "Henry VI: A Television History in Four Parts". In Pendleton, Thomas A. Henry VI: Critical Essays. London: Routledge. p. 237. ISBN 9780815338925. 
  6. ^ Quoted in Smith, Emma (2007). "Shakespeare Serialized: An Age of Kings". In Shaughnessy, Robert. The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare and Popular Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 137. ISBN 9780521605809. 
  7. ^ Quoted in Smith, Emma (2007). "Shakespeare Serialized: An Age of Kings". In Shaughnessy, Robert. The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare and Popular Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 136. ISBN 9780521605809. 
  8. ^ Lennox, Patricia (2001). "Henry VI: A Television History in Four Parts". In Pendleton, Thomas A. Henry VI: Critical Essays. London: Routledge. p. 239. ISBN 9780815338925. 

External links[edit]