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PBS is pulling out the stops in celebrating the 40th Anniversary Season of Great Performances with its premiere of the BBC’s magnificent The Hollow Crown.

The Hollow Crown

Filled with a star-studded cast and brilliant acting bar none, The Hollow Crown is a four-part series of made-for-television movie adaptations of Shakespeare’s second history tetralogy. Known as the Henriad, it includes the plays Richard II, Henry IV Part I, Henry IV Part II and Henry V, each of which is full of power struggles, plotting, treachery, betrayal, and murder.

The Hollow Crown: Ben Whishaw as King Richard II
The Hollow Crown: Ben Whishaw as King Richard II – Courtesy of Nick Briggs © Neal Street Productions

Richard II
The Duke of Gloucester has been murdered. His nephew, the king’s cousin Henry Bolingbroke, goes to King Richard and accuses the nobleman Thomas Mowbray of this and other crimes. Mowbray insists on his innocence and clearing his name, and a duel is set. Richard calls it off at the last moment and banishes both men from England.

The divine king is no angel and confiscates the wealth that rightfully belongs to Bolingbroke after Bolingbroke’s father, John of Gaunt, dies, in order to help fund his battle against rebels in Ireland. In his absence, the governing of England resides with the Duke of York, uncle to both Bolingbroke and the king, which is especially awkward when he must choose sides upon Bolingbroke’s return to claim his inheritance and seize the throne. Bolingbroke gets both and is crowned King Henry IV after Richard concedes, is taken prisoner, and murdered.

Nominated for a 2013 BAFTA TV Award in the Single Drama category, Richard II stars Ben Whishaw (The Hour) as King Richard II, the role for which he won the BAFTA TV Leading Actor Award. Amongst the Richard II cast are:

  • Rory Kinnear (Skyfall) as Bolingbroke
  • James Purefoy (The Following) as Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk
  • Patrick Stewart (X-Men) as John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster
  • David Suchet (Agatha Christie’s Poirot) as the Duke of York
  • Tom Hughes (Silk) as the Duke of Aumerle, York’s son
  • Lindsay Duncan (Rome) as the Duchess of York
  • David Morrissey (The Walking Dead) as the Earl of Northumberland
  • Tom Goodman-Hill (Mr. Selfridge) as Sir Stephen Scroop
  • Lucian Msamati (Game of Thrones) as the Bishop of Carlisle
  • Clémence Poésy (Harry Potter) as Queen Isabella
The Hollow Crown: Jeremy Irons as King Henry IV
The Hollow Crown: Jeremy Irons as King Henry IV – Courtesy of Joss Barratt © Neal Street Productions

Henry IV, Part I
King Henry IV is beset by problems: His crusade to the Holy Land (to cleanse his guilt over his complicity in Richard II’s murder) is put off due to the capture of army commander Edmund Mortimer by Welsh rebel Owen Glendower. Henry’s allies — the Earls of Worcester and Northumberland, and “Hotspur” Percy — are enraged that the King won’t ransom Mortimer, so they refuse to release prisoners to the King, and plot a rebellion against him.

And Henry’s son and heir to the throne, “Hal,” the Prince of Wales, whom Henry wished were more like Hotspur, has more rogue than reign about him as he frolics with knight-in-tarnished-armor Sir John Falstaff and other lowlifes. But Hal proves his mettle at the Battle of Shrewsbury when he kills Hotspur and saves the King’s life, an act for which Falstaff takes undue credit. Henry and Hal win this battle, but rebellion continues.

Jeremy Irons (The Borgias) stars as King Henry IV, Tom Hiddleston (Wallander) as Prince Hal, and Simon Russell Beale (MI-5) as Falstaff, the role for which he won the 2013 BAFTA TV Supporting Actor Award for. Also in the cast are:

  • David Hayman (Trial & Retribution) as Worcester
  • Alun Armstrong (New Tricks) as Northumberland
  • Joe Armstrong (Robin Hood) as Hotspur
  • Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey) as Kate Percy
  • Harry Lloyd (Game of Thrones) as Mortimer
  • Robert Pugh (Game of Thrones) as Glendower
  • Stephen McCole (Merlin) as the Scottish Earl of Douglas
  • Julie Walters (Harry Potter) as Mistress Quickly
  • Maxine Peake (Silk) as Doll Tearsheet
  • Henry Faber as Prince John of Lancaster
The Hollow Crown: Iain Glen as Earl of Warwick
The Hollow Crown: Iain Glen as Earl of Warwick – Courtesy of Joss Barratt © Neal Street Productions

Henry IV, Part II
King Henry appoints his son, Prince John of Lancaster, and the Earl of Westmoreland to lead his army against the rebels, who are led by the lords Bardolf, Mowbray, and Hastings, the Archbishop of York, and for a time, Northumberland.

Meanwhile, at Mistress Quickly’s, the Lord Chief Justice is rebuking Falstaff in an attempt to separate the rapscallion from Hal. They depart when called to battle, and Falstaff is tasked with recruiting soldiers. Thanks to Prince John’s cunning, though, the fighting ends before it begins, and the leaders of the conspiracy are captured and executed.

The King, gravely ill, is finally reconciled with and entrusts the throne to Hal. Upon Henry IV’s death, Hal is crowned King Henry V. Falstaff, knowing opportunity when he sees it, races to see Hal and reap his rewards. Instead, he is shocked and dismayed when the new king, now former friend, bars Falstaff and his band of misfits from approaching him, and has Falstaff arrested for his crimes.

In addition to Jeremy Irons, Tom Hiddleston, Simon Russell Beale, Julie Walters, Maxine Peake, Alun Armstrong, and Michelle Dockery, who reprise their roles from Henry IV, Part I, the cast includes:

  • James Laurenson (State of Play) as the Earl of Westmoreland
  • Geoffrey Palmer (As Time Goes By) as the Lord Chief Justice
  • Tom Georgeson (Bleak House) as Bardolf
  • Pip Torrens (Fleming) Mowbray
  • Adam Kotz (Five Daughters) as Hastings
  • Nicholas Jones (The Iron Lady) as the Archbishop of York
  • Niamh Cusack (Heartbeat) as Lady Northumberland
  • Iain Glen (Jack Taylor) as the Earl of Warwick
The Hollow Crown - Tom Hiddleston as King Henry V
The Hollow Crown – Tom Hiddleston as King Henry V – Courtesy of Nick Briggs © Neal Street Productions

Henry V
The wiser and more serious King Henry V is advised by the Archbishop of Canterbury and Bishop of Ely to take the French throne. The French Dauphin (prince) is spoiling for a fight, and instigates one by mocking Henry. Before he goes into the fray once more, Henry discovers that the French have paid the Earl of Cambridge, Lord Scroop, and Sir Thomas Grey to assassinate him. Not one to suffer betrayal lightly, Henry has them executed.

French King Charles VI doesn’t want a war, but the Dauphin rebuffs Henry’s ambassador, the Duke of Exeter, and his demands, so war it is. The English army captures the French city of Harfleur, but at a great loss, yet threats from the French have Henry vowing to fight to the finish.

On the eve of the Battle of Agincourt, Henry walks amongst his troops disguised as a common soldier to learn their opinions of him and their willingness to continue fighting, as they are outnumbered five-to-one by the French. On the day of battle, the English prevail. The terms of the peace agreement, known as the Treaty of Troyes, include Henry marrying Princess Katherine of France and being named heir to the French throne. England and France are thus united in peace.

Tom Hiddleton, Tom Georgeson, James Laurenson, Simon Russell Beale, and Julie Walters reprise their roles from Henry IV, Part II, with the following actors also in the cast:

  • John Hurt (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) as The Chorus
  • Malcolm Sinclair (Parade’s End) as the Archbishop of Canterbury
  • Nigel Cooke (Macbeth) as the Bishop of Ely
  • Geraldine Chaplin (Chaplin) as Alice
  • Anton Lesser (Endeavour) as the Duke of Exeter
  • Richard Griffiths (Pie in the Sky) as the Duke of Burgundy
  • Paterson Joseph (Law & Order: UK) as the Duke of York
  • Edward Akrout (The Borgias) as Louis the Dauphin
  • Lambert Wilson (Of Gods and Men) as King Charles VI
  • Jérémie Covillault (Elizabeth I) as Montjoy
  • Owen Teale (Murphy’s Law) as Captain Fluelin
  • Mélanie Thierry (The Princess of Montpensier) as Princess Katherine

The Hollow Crown premieres on PBS Great Performances as follows:

  • Richard II — Friday, 20 September 2013, from 9:00-11:59 PM Eastern
  • Henry IV, Part I — Friday, 27 September 2013, from 9:00-11:30 PM
  • Henry IV, Part II — Friday, 4 October 2013, from 9:00-11:30 PM
  • Henry V — Friday, 11 October 2013, from 9:00-11:30 PM



PBS Brings The Hollow Crown to the U.S.