Sep 20 2013 9:30am

What More Could You Want? The Hollow Crown Has Shakespeare, Hiddleston, and History

Ben Whishaw, Jeremy Irons, and Tom Hiddleston in The Hollow CrownThis week, PBS will begin showing The Hollow Crown miniseries as part of their Great Performances series. The Hollow Crown premiered on the BBC in Britain last summer but this will be the first television airing in the United States. Per the PBS press release:

GREAT PERFORMANCES “The Hollow Crown: Shakespeare’s History Plays”

This ambitious four-part miniseries assembles four of Shakespeare’s history plays — Richard II, Henry IV Parts I & II, and Henry V — into a single chronological narrative. The original “Game of Thrones” has inspired bold film adaptations with a cast of leading British and Hollywood talent including Jeremy Irons, Tom Hiddleston, Ben Whishaw, Rory Kinnear, Patrick Stewart, John Hurt, Julie Walters, David Suchet, Michelle Dockery and David Morrissey.

Queen Isabella in The Hollow Crown: Richard IINow, if you are anything like me (and I suspect more than a few of you are), there were two words in that description that leapt off the screen at you; Tom Hiddleston. Yes, Tom aka Loki from Marvel’s Thor and The Avengers franchise does have a starring role in the a large portion of the miniseries. For some of you, that fact is enough for you to put this on your Must Watch List. If you need more incentive, though, let me give you a little more to go on. Which I can do, since I've been able to view the series.

The Hollow Crown miniseries contains four of Shakespeare’s “history plays,” as opposed to his tragedies and comedies. These plays take real-life people and events and tell their stories (albeit with some creative license). There’s everything you would expect from Shakespeare over the course of the four plays; drama, intrigue, betrayal, loyalty, bawdiness, wonderful prose and stirring speeches.

Joe Armstrong and Michelle Dockery in The Hollow Crown: Henry IVThe settings and scenery are breathtaking and some of Britain’s finest actors are giving award-worthy performances. In fact, both Ben Whishaw and Simon Russell Beale won British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Awards for their roles in the miniseries. It’s a quality television production of plays usually only seen on stage in the United States.

If you are a fan of Shakespeare, you should watch. If you’re a fan of historicals, I think you will enjoy it. If you love the hero’s journey, there’s a fantastic arc for you to follow in this series. If you are not used to Shakespearean dialogue, you may feel that lost when you begin to watch but do not despair; you will catch on rather quickly and it will flow for you. Seriously, I think everyone could benefit from viewing the miniseries.

Tom Hiddleston as Prince Hal in The Hollow CrownThere. I gave you a well thought out, fairly intelligent post about why you should watch the miniseries. I’m rather proud of myself because, I promise you, when I initially conceived this post, the only thing I planned on typing was “OH MY GOD TOM HIDDLESTON, Y’ALL!” As I mentioned, Tom is the sole reason I first viewed this, and he is the reason why I will be watching the whole thing again on PBS. Fair warning; he is not featured in the first two plays but it is worth it to watch them because of all of the other wonderful performances and to understand the entire narrative.

The hero’s arc I mentioned is the journey of how Prince Hal (Tom Hiddleston), an often inebriated cad and frequent disappointment to his father King Henry IV (Jeremy Irons) becomes King Henry V, champion of the battlefield. It also features Tom in leather. And chainmail. Charging into battle on a horse. And wooing his future bride. (I dare you not to swoon at the wooage.) So, I did say many other wonderful things about the miniseries but if you’re like me and Tom would be your only interest, you’ll be more than satisfied; I promise.

The Hollow Crown Series will air on PBS stations on Fridays, September 20-October 11, 9:00 p.m. ET
• “The Hollow Crown – Richard II” – September 20
• “The Hollow Crown – Henry IV, Part I” – September 27
• “The Hollow Crown – Henry IV, Part II” – October 4
• “The Hollow Crown – Henry V” – October 11


Pen Singleton is a writer, reader, obsessive fangirl and pop culture addict. You can find her on Twitter @sweetiepiepen or fangirl with her on Tumblr

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Heather Waters
1. HeatherWaters
What a ridiculously talented cast. Wow. Thanks for this post--I've set my TiVo to record all four parts!
2. Nia2113
My poor over worked and over stretched DVR thanks you for this!
Christopher Morgan
3. cmorgan
I love the history plays, they are the things I like most about Shakespeare. That Hiddleston is playing Hal blows my mind. I must find this.

Who is playing Fallstaff?
Pen Singleton
4. PenSingleton
@redline & @Nia2113 - You both and your DVR's are most welcome! I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

@cmorgan - Simon Russell Beale is playing Falstaff and won the BAFTA for the performance. He's phenomenal!
5. P.A. DePaul
Thank you so much for bringing this to my attention. I will definately be tuning in...and yes, the first words that jumped out at me in your post was TOM HIDDLESTON! :)
6. Tina@Bookcrack
OMG Pen, you've now lived one of my fan girl blogging fantasies-you managed to write a post for H&H and legitimately gushed about Hiddles. In context.Brilliant! Jealous! :P

Seriously though, much love, my DVR is set thanks to you, and Megan can attest to my Hiddle addiction. Happy sigh. How the hell am I supposed to get any work done now?
Katy Cooper
7. katy.madellio
I first became aware of this when my local PBS station broadcast the episode of "Shakespeare Uncovered" about this series. So I've seen bits of it -- including a bit of the band of brothers speech from "Henry V" and the scene between Hal and Falstaff when Hal realizes what will happen between them later. The latter in particular was heart-rending.

That was also when my own swooning at the feet of TH began...

I've been waiting for this for months.
8. KathyB
Thanks for this post! I will definitely be watching this series and "swooning at the wooage".
Pen Singleton
9. PenSingleton
@P.A. - You're a woman after my own heart!

@Tina - I was giddy at the prospect of being able to write a legitimate post and fangirl at the same time! You totally GET ME! :-)

@Katy - Even though I already saw it, I've been waiting for months too to see it again.

@Kathy - you might clutch the pearls; the wooage is breathtaking!
Lynne Connolly
10. Lynne Connolly
You really, really need to see this. I promise. Especially the first one. Ben Whishaw's Richard II is a revelation - the best I've seen since Derek Jacobi's. He is magnificent (you might know him as the new Q in James Bond).
You forgot to mention Patrick Stewart!
And the clothes, oh, lord, they are gorgeous!
It's Shakespeare done on location, so that is pretty interesting, too. Jeremy Irons acts, none of his affected stuff that he puts on when he can't be bothered and his Henry IV is really convincing and his relationship with his son, played by Hiddlestone, is amazing.
And of course Simon Russell-Beale, probably the best Shakespearian actor alive does his first Falstaff, a role people have been salivating to see him in. I think he could refine it more, but in the context, it's wonderful.
Watch the trailers on youtube.
11. AlexisHall
*cough* I very strongly feel you are overplaying Tom Hiddleston, marvellous though he is, and underplaying Ben Whishaw who is the most beautiful, talented man on the planet and his sexually ambivalent, fragile performance as Richard II makes me all wibbly.
Pen Singleton
12. PenSingleton
@Lynne & @Alexis - I agree with you both, Ben Whishaw is beautiful and magnficent, as well. It may not have come through in the post but I do have a bit of a Tom Hiddleston problem. :-) But you are both correct.

@Lynne, I'm a Star Trek TNG fanatic and I literally jumped up when I saw Patrick Stewart! He is mentioned in the blurb from PBS but I did neglect to single him out. He, as well as just about everyone else in the production, was wonderful.
13. Megaera
I am deeply annoyed that I can't get these programs in my area in the U.S. My PBS stations have their heads up their collective __ , apparently. At least Netflix has them...
Heather Waters
14. HeatherWaters
@Megaera -- See if it's listed under the title "Great Performances" rather than "The Hollow Crown." That's how I found it in my listings.
15. Nia2113
@Megaera they are on Netflix?? What are they under because I missed Richard II last night
Sarah Stultz
16. RVASarah
I am very much looking forward to the "wooing" scene between Henry and Katherine in Henry V. When Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson performed it in the 1989 movie, I swooned...and still do. Can't wait to see if it can be topped!
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