Henry V (1944) (Blu-ray)

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Released 1-Dec-2010

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Audio Commentary-by film historian Bruce Eder
Theatrical Trailer
Gallery-Black & White/Original/HD Comparison stills
Gallery-Photo-Actors Portraits
Gallery-Promotional materials
Gallery-Original lecture brochure
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1944
Running Time 136:42 (Case: 138)
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Laurence Olivier

Beyond Home Entertainment
Starring Leslie Banks
Felix Aylmer
Robert Helpmann
Vernon Greeves
Gerald Case
Griffith Jones
Morland Graham
Nicholas Hannen
Michael Warre
Laurence Olivier
Ralph Truman
Ernest Thesiger
Roy Emerton
Case Amaray Variant
RPI $19.95 Music William Walton

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (256Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (256Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

King Henry V: I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game's afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!'

In 1943, with Great Britain in the midst of war with Germany, Laurence Olivier was commissioned to make a propaganda film for the British troops to lift morale in preparation for the Battle of Normandy. The film chosen was the adaptation of William Shakespeare's play, Henry V (or its full title from the opening credits, The Chronicle History of King Henry the Fift with His Battell Fought at Agincourt in France). With financial backing from the government, the film was shot in glorious Technicolor for GBP475,000 (around $US80 million in today's terms) and it showed in the quality of the costuming, film score, battle scenes, tracking shots and the scaled set used for the early 17th-century model of London. Audiences who viewed the film at the time would have been treated visually to something akin to modern-day cinema enthusiasts who first viewed Avatar in 3D in 2009. Henry V was a risk to make because Shakespeare was difficult to market to modern audiences, but the visual look and the 'play-within-a-film' format which Olivier used successfully allowed theatre goers at the time to connect with the material.

The issue with film adaptations of Shakespeare's works at the time was that they were highly esteemed and revered and they were filmed that way, which didn't allow audiences to find a modern-day context in which to appreciate the films. It wasn't just Shakespeare's works that were adapted this way in the 20th century, just think of all those biblical epics made in the Hollywood system in the 1950s and 60s. Where George Steven's The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) failed due to its epical style, Pier Paolo Pasolini's The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964) succeeded due to its raw emotion and simplicity. In much the same way, no-one thought of using comical characters in Shakespeare in film adaptations in the 1930s, yet Olivier did so by taking us to the Globe Theatre for the first 30 minutes of Henry V to get the plot details out of the way by staging the film as a play in the 1600s, before taking us to the battle fields of France in 1415. In the first act of the film, look out for Robert Helpmann who plays the comical Bishop of Ely, 'bumbingly' supporting the Archbishop of Canterbury (Felix Aylmer) who attends the King's court to persuade him to fight in France and therefore not raise revenue from the clergy.

The basic plot of Henry V follows the historical record. The beginning of the film sees King Henry attending the court with clergy in regards to raising revenue for his government. The clergy try to convince him to invade France instead. After a visit from the French Dauphin, the heir to Charles VI of France, the King decides to invade France after a gift of tennis balls from the Dauphin. The reason for Henry's offence at the gesture was due to the popular perception in his youth that he was a rich and spoilt playboy given to drink and leisure (it was also convenient that France's royal government was a divided monarchy at the time, ready for invasion from her enemies). At this point of the film the action moves from stage actors in a play to action in the field, from 1600 to the real-life events of 1415. Henry sails to France and proceeds to Harfleur. Here he gives his oft-quoted speech to his army, "Once more... unto the breach! Dear friends, once more!" and the army lay siege on the town, taking it over. The troops then march to Agincourt. Prior to the battle on the next day, we see the King going in disguise to find out first hand the morale of the troops. After this event, King Henry leads his men in the battle on Saint Crispin's Day, October 25th, 1415 with the famous words...

King Henry V: And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother

The Battle of Agincourt was filmed with live-action stunt work from Olivier and the extras; it represented a scene that was not seen in British cinema prior to this and was novel, with tracking shots following the French army and scenes of arrows flying from the battle. After the French are caught in the muddy battlefield, and due to the fact that their battle-gear and weapons were obsolete for the time, the English were able to defeat the French, with Henry becoming the heir to the French king Charles VI and claiming his daughter Catherine as his wife. The marriage to Catherine brings us back to the play where the film ends on-stage (with Catherine's part played by a boy, as was traditional for English theatre in the 17th century for female roles).

The battle scenes in Henry V were filmed in the plains of Ireland because of that nation's neutrality during World War II. Location shooting in England and France was not possible in 1943. Laurence Olivier wanted William Wyler, Carol Reed and then Terence Young to direct. All refused so Olivier was forced to direct, a remarkable first-time effort which saw as much as 75% of footage shot used in the film. This equates to a 4:3 shooting ratio; typical modern productions average between 10:1 and 20:1. Laurence Olivier received an Oscar for his outstanding achievement as actor, producer and director in bringing Henry V to the screen. In recognition of his promotional work for the film, Olivier received 15,000 tax-free ($US735,000 in today's terms) in lieu of not working on other projects, but he was unable to get his wife Vivien Leigh to play the part of Catherine. Leigh had signed a contract with David O. Selznick after doing Gone with the Wind in 1939 and Selznick would not let a star such as Leigh participate in a film with only two major scenes. Leigh would never act in another Selznick picture again.

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Transfer Quality


As mentioned, Henry V was shot in glorious three-strip Technicolor. Daily rushes were viewed in black-and-white and this meant that Olivier couldn't get a good sense as to whether the colour timing was correct or not. The crew were using Technicolor for the first time and despite the allocation of a technical consultant from the Technicolor company, cinematographer Robert Krasker, lit evening scenes with minimal light, despite the Technicolor process requiring strong light sources to maintain focus in background scenes. Similarly to The Red Shoes and Hamlet, this Blu-ray comes on a single-layered Blu-ray disc, so the total content on the disc is no more than 25 gb in size.

The aspect ratio is 1:37:1, full-frame. The 1080p/24 video transfer uses a MPEG-4 AVC codec with an average bitrate of 19.99 Mbps. The image looks much brighter on Blu-ray than previous DVD releases. This digital restoration has also altered the colour palette of the film; it looks much more neutral, with less contrast than previously when colours where much richer. Film grain is very slight here, and sometimes the image is a little soft, but overall the video transfer is very good, with no notable film artefacts. This is as pristine as it gets in terms of picture quality.

Subtitles are available in English and are easy-to-read.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


Unlike The Red Shoes and Hamlet, a lossless audio track is not available here so this necessitates the viewer to increase the volume of their audio equipment to listen to dialogue.

The main soundtrack and the audio commentary by Bruce Eder are in English. Both tracks are encoded in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono at 256 kbps. Dialogue is a little soft in comparison to the film score in the background. The audio is synchronised.

William Walton's score cannot be properly appreciated with this soundtrack unfortunately as it is too hollow and lacks bass and presence.

There is no surround channel usage as the main soundtrack is in mono. The subwoofer is not utilised either.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Audio Commentary by film historian Bruce Eder

This is a highly informative commentary track from Bruce Eder which I thoroughly enjoyed. Among the topics which Eder discusses are the difficulty of marketing Shakespeare to the general public, the process by which Olivier came to be involved with the film, Olivier's insistence of creative control, the work done with screenwriter Alan Dent in halving the dialogue and removing unpopular (for the time) sequences from the play such as Henry V's punishments for traitors and his enemies, William Walton's score, the structure of the film as a 'play-within-a-film' (also used by Ingmar Bergman for his adaptation of Mozart's The Magic Flute in 1975) and the influence of Sergei Eisenstein's 1938 similarly anti-Nazi propaganda film, Alexander Nevsky. I highly recommend watching the film with this commentary track to gain an appreciation for the production work involved in making Henry V.

Theatrical Trailer (2:55)

This unrestored trailer is presented in high definition. It is from the 1950s (when widescreen films were first mass-marketed and shown in theatres) when the film was re-released theatrically in 'SuperScope', an early widescreen format.

Gallery - Black & White/Original/HD Comparison (0:51)

This is a short extra comparing the original image of the black-and-white broadcast of Henry V from the past, the image in standard definition on DVD and in high definition on Blu-ray via three similar scene screenshots.

Gallery - Actors portraits (3:14)

Various photo stills of the cast are included here in this extra in black-and-white and colour.

Gallery - Promotional Materials (0:45)

Original posters from 1944.

Original lecture brochure (3:46)

This is a text-based extra which shows how the film was marketed to 'factories and schools in connection with the Laurence Oliver production of Henry V'.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

Like Hamlet, Henry V has been released by ITV in the United Kingdom with a Region B transfer and with identical specifications as the Region B Beyond Home Entertainment Australian release.


Henry V is William Shakespeare's warrior king and hero for his generation and every generation thereafter or perhaps it can be viewed as an anti-war allegory, depending on how one interprets the original play. There is no doubt in this film adaptation of where Laurence Olivier's allegiance to the original play lies; his Henry is both hero and saviour of the English people, a true patriot (Kenneth Branagh's 1989 film adaption looks more at the realities and consequences of fighting war).

This presentation of Henry V on Blu-ray contains an excellent video transfer and supportive audio commentary by Bruce Eder as an extra, but the audio transfer is very basic and so too are the other extras. No matter, this is still the best that Henry V is going to look on your home theatre so grab a copy if Olivier's interpretation of Shakespeare appeals to you.

Ratings (out of 5)


© John Stivaktas (I like my bio)
Wednesday, February 02, 2011
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S550 (Firmware updated Version 020), using HDMI output
DisplaySamsung LA46A650 46 Inch LCD TV Series 6 FullHD 1080P 100Hz. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderSony STR-K1000P. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationSony HTDDW1000
SpeakersSony 6.2 Surround (Left, Front, Right, Surround Left, Surround Back, Surround Right, 2 subwoofers)

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