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Henry V is a 1944 British Technicolor film adaptation of William Shakespeare's play of the same name. The on-screen title is The Chronicle History of King Henry the Fift with His Battell Fought at Agincourt in France (derived from the title of the 1600 quarto edition of the play, though changing the spelling from "Agin Court"). It stars Laurence Olivier, who also directed. The play was adapted for the screen by Olivier, Dallas Bower, and Alan Dent. The score is by William Walton.

Henry V
Henry V – 1944 UK film poster.jpg
British film poster
Directed byLaurence Olivier
Produced byFilippo Del Giudice
Laurence Olivier
Written byDallas Bower
Alan Dent
Laurence Olivier
Based onHenry V
by William Shakespeare
StarringLaurence Olivier
Renée Asherson
Robert Newton
Leslie Banks
Music byWilliam Walton
CinematographyJack Hildyard
Robert Krasker
Edited byReginald Beck
Distributed byEagle-Lion Distributors Limited
Release date
  • 22 November 1944 (1944-11-22)
Running time
136 minutes[1]
CountryUnited Kingdom
LanguageEnglish, French
Budget£475,708 (or $2 million)[2][3]
Box officeover $2 million[4]

The film begins as a recreation of a stage production of the play in the Globe Theatre, then gradually turns into a stylised cinematic rendition of the play, with sets reminiscent of a medieval Book of Hours. It follows the overall pattern of Shakespeare's play, depicting Henry's campaign in France, through the siege of Harfleur. The film then shows the Battle of Agincourt in a real setting, after which the film quickly begins to revert to backdrops that are once again more and more like medieval illuminated manuscripts. We then see the negotiations for Treaty of Troyes and Henry's courtship of Princess Katherine followed by their marriage. At the end of the scene, the setting reverts to the Globe Playhouse and the audience applauding.

The film was made near the end of World War II and was intended as a morale booster for Britain. Consequently, the film was partly funded by the British government. The film was originally "dedicated to the ‘Commandos and Airborne Troops of Great Britain the spirit of whose ancestors it has been humbly attempted to recapture.’" The film won Olivier an Academy Honorary Award for "his Outstanding achievement as actor, producer and director in bringing Henry V to the screen."

Olivier's Henry V is widely considered the first Shakespeare film to be both critically and commercially successful.



We see a panorama of London in 1600 and travel to the Globe Theatre where the audience is being seated. The Chorus (Leslie Banks) enters and implores the audience to use their imagination to visualise the setting of the play. We then see, up on a balcony, two clergymen, The Archbishop of Canterbury (Felix Aylmer), and the Bishop of Ely (Robert Helpmann) discussing the current affairs of state. Henry (Laurence Olivier) then enters, and discusses with his nobles the state of France. A gift is delivered to Henry from the French Dauphin. The gift turns out to be tennis balls, a jibe at Henry's youth and inexperience. Offended, Henry sends the French ambassador away, and prepares to claim the French throne, a throne that he believes is rightfully his.

We then see characters from Shakespeare's Henry IV plays: Corporal Nym (Frederick Cooper), Bardolph (Roy Emerton), and Pistol (Robert Newton). These characters resolve to join Henry's army, however, before they do, Falstaff (George Robey), another returning character, and one of the King's former mentors, dies. At this point, the film gradually ceases to be located in the Globe Theatre; instead the scenes are performed in stylised film sets reminiscent of a medieval Book of Hours.

At Southampton, the fleet embarks, and lands in France, beginning a campaign that tears through France to Harfleur, where Henry's forces lay siege. At the siege, Henry delivers his first rousing speech to his troops: "Once more... unto the breach! Dear friends, once more!" The troops charge on Harfleur, and take it as their own.

The troops then march to Agincourt, meeting the French forces. Before the impending battle, Henry wanders around the camp in disguise, to find out what the men think of him. The next day, before the battle, Henry delivers his famous Saint Crispin's Day speech. The Battle of Agincourt (1415) then commences. This sequence is filmed on location in a realist style, unlike the stylised sets seen previously;[5] however, the Technicolor is still very bright and somewhat larger than life, unlike the same scene in the later Kenneth Branagh version. The English archers let forth a volley of arrows that cuts deeply into the French numbers. The French, weighed down by their heavy armour, are caught in the fresh mud of the field, and are bogged down, which gives the English troops ample opportunity to ride out and fight them on equal terms. The French Dauphin (Max Adrian), seeing this disadvantage, watches as several bodyguards and noblemen including the Constable of France ride toward the English camp and kills all the boys and squires, prompting a tearful Fluellen to state that 'this is expressly against the law of arms'. Henry is angered by this and rides out to meet the French Constable (Leo Genn), whom he defeats in personal combat.

The battle is won. Henry then courts the Princess Katherine (Renée Asherson); the film now returns to the stylised sets. Henry woos Katherine, and France is now under the control of England, as the French King, Charles VI adopts Henry as his successor. In the final moments of the play, we return to the Globe Theatre again, and the actors take their bows.



Winston Churchill instructed Olivier to fashion the film as morale-boosting propaganda for British troops fighting World War II. The making and release of the film coincided with the Allied invasion of Normandy and push into France. An early preview trailer of the film showed contemporary London just before cutting to the film's aerial footage of London in 1600.


Olivier intentionally left out some of Henry's harsher traits as Shakespeare wrote them – such as his remorseless beheading of the three Southampton Plot traitors: Richard of Conisburgh, 3rd Earl of Cambridge; Henry Scrope, 3rd Baron Scrope of Masham; and Sir Thomas Grey; his threat to unleash his troops to rape and pillage Harfleur if the city refused to surrender; the cutting of the throats of French prisoners during the battle at Agincourt; as well as his refusal to stop the hanging of his old friend Bardolph for looting. The melancholy reference at the end of the play to how England under Henry VI eventually lost France is also omitted.


Hundreds of locals were hired as extras for the Agincourt battle scenes filmed in neutral Ireland in 1943. The production company paid an additional pound to anyone who brought his own horse.[6]

Olivier agreed not to appear in another film for 18 months to reduce any detraction from the promotion of Henry V. In return, he was paid £15,000, tax-free (about £460,000 in today's money).[7]

Esmond Knight, who plays the patriotic Welsh soldier Fluellen was a wounded veteran of the war. He had been badly injured in 1941 while on active service on board HMS Prince of Wales when she was attacked by the Bismarck, and remained totally blind for two years. He had only just regained some sight in his right eye.


1942: Overseas newspaper correspondents inspect a beer barrel and tent 'at Agincourt', part of the set built for the production of 'Henry V' at Denham Studios.

The film was shot on location at the Powerscourt Estate in Enniskerry, County Wicklow, Ireland. The interior sets were constructed at the Denham Studios in Buckinghamshire, England. They were based on illustrations from the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry the illustrator of which is also a character in the play.

The film, which was photographed in three-strip Technicolor, was hailed by critics for its ebulliently colourful sets and costumes, as well as for Olivier's masterful direction and acting. Pauline Kael called the movie "a triumph of color, music, spectacle and soaring heroic poetry".[8] James Agee reported, in Time magazine's 8 April 1946 issue, that a remarkable 75 percent of the color footage shot was used in the final release.

In 2007, the film was digitally restored to High Definition format and re-released.[9] As part of the BBC Summer of British Film series in 2007, it was shown at selected cinemas across the UK.

Film musicEdit

The score by William Walton is considered a classic film score, and excerpts from it, such as the orchestral Suite from Henry V, have been performed in concert. A recording of the score arranged by Christopher Palmer, with actor Christopher Plummer reading the speeches given by the Chorus, Henry V, and the Duke of Burgundy, was released in 1990 under the title Henry V: A Shakespeare Scenario. The score incorporates elements from a well-known vocal adaptation of French folk-songs called Chants d'Auvergne by Joseph Canteloube. Ralph Vaughan Williams had also suggested tunes to Walton that he had used in his brass band overture 'Henry V' of 1933 including 'Agincourt Song', ‘Reveillez-vous, Picards’ (Old French Marching Song) and William Byrd's 'The Earl of Oxford's March' all of which Walton used. The 2007 re-release of Sir Neville Marriner's recording of the score also includes original versions of earlier music by composers whose works were incorporated into the score, including selections from Canteloube's Chants d'Auvergne.

A section of the track "The Battle of Agincourt" were used by the BBC for their Election Night Result programme in 1959 and 1964.

The film was meant to cost £350,000 but ended up costing nearly £500,000.[10]


The film was highly acclaimed around the world. James Agee, who reviewed it separately for three publications, called it "one of the cinema's great works of art".

It earned over $1 million in rentals in the US.[11]

However, due to its high production cost and Entertainment Tax it did not go into profit for Rank until 1949.[12] It earned United Artists a profit of $1.62 million.[2]

The film is believed to have been the first film to have successfully solved problems relating to the rendering of the Bard on screen. Mary Pickford's 1929 The Taming of the Shrew retained little of Shakespeare's dialogue, having started production as a silent film. Max Reinhardt's 1935 A Midsummer Night's Dream for Warner Bros. received moderately good or mixed reviews, but fell short of acclaim. That following year saw a lackluster British film adaptation of As You Like It starring Olivier and scored by William Walton, who scored all the Shakespeare films save one, directed by Olivier. However, it was the spectacular flop that same year of MGM's Romeo and Juliet that caused Hollywood to stay away from Shakespeare.

In 2007, Military History Magazine listed this production 75th among "The 100 Greatest War Movies."[13]

Academy AwardsEdit

Award[14] Person
Special Award for his Outstanding achievement as actor, producer and director in bringing Henry V to the screen. Laurence Olivier
Best Actor Laurence Olivier
Best Score William Walton
Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Color Paul Sheriff
Carmen Dillon
Best Picture Laurence Olivier

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "HENRY V (U)". Eagle-Lion Films. British Board of Film Classification. 6 November 1944. Retrieved 21 September 2013.
  2. ^ a b Sheldon Hall, Epics, Spectacles, and Blockbusters: A Hollywood History Wayne State University Press, 2010 p 169
  3. ^ Several Major British Films Ready for U.S. Audiences, Says Rank: Producer Says His Organization Has Tested Its Pictures on American Soldiers in England Wall Street Journal (1923 - Current file) [New York, N.Y] 05 June 1945: 3.
  4. ^ Balio, Tino (2009). United Artists: The Company Built by the Stars. University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 978-0-299-23004-3. p220
  5. ^ Gurr, Andrew (2005). King Henry V. New Cambridge Shakespeare. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. pp. 48–49. ISBN 0-521-84792-3. The film dissolves gradually, step by step, into cinematic realism
  6. ^ Thomas L. Erskine; James Michael Welsh; John C. Tibbetts (2000). Video versions: film adaptations of plays on video. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 151. ISBN 978-0-313-30185-8.
  7. ^ Richard Norton-Taylor. "How Olivier staged a tax coup". the Guardian. Retrieved 19 April 2016.
  8. ^ "5001 Nights at the Movies". Retrieved 19 April 2016.
  9. ^ "Henry V". Retrieved 25 July 2017.
  10. ^ Realism and Tinsel: Cinema and Society in Britain 1939-48 By Robert Murphy p 55
  11. ^ "Variety (November 1946)". Retrieved 19 April 2016.
  12. ^ Macnab, Geoffrey (1993). J. Arthur Rank and the British Film Industry. Abingdon, England: Routledge. p. 191. ISBN 978-0415072724.
  13. ^ "The 100 Greatest War Movies" special issue, page 31.
  14. ^ "NY Times: Henry V". NY Times. Retrieved 20 December 2008.


  • The Great British Films, Jerry Vermilye, 1978, Citadel Press, ISBN 0-8065-0661-X
  • Sargeant, Amy. British Cinema: a Critical History. London: BFI Publishing, 2005.

External linksEdit