There are several moments where Henry’s ruthless nature challenges the notion of his heroism from the point of view of the film’s audience. However, I think within the world of the film he’s ultimately seen as heroic. Branagh uses several techniques within Henry V to emphasize not necessarily Henry’s ruthless nature outright, but genially creates an underlying question of the king’s heroism.
Branagh often uses close-ups within the film to emphasize emotional moments, most notably in the beginning hour of the film. As Henry is delivering the initial speech in response to the gift of tennis balls, you can see his anger and passion better in those close-ups. Shortly after that scene comes the scene with the French King and Dauphin where there are several close-ups on the Kings rather ragged face, similarly throwing the audience into his disparity and uncertainty. “Branagh managed to achieve both intimacy and scope in his use of the camera” (Crowl, 34).
Probably the biggest moment within the film where Henry’s heroism is challenged is in the scene where Bardoph is hung for stealing from a church. Branagh uses not only the aforementioned close-ups in this scene, but he shows a flashback of when Henry and Bardoph were drinking together. This creates the assumption that they were close friends and now, as Henry is King, he lets Bardoph be hung for a crime in front of his eyes. Flashbacks are often utilized within the film to show relationships with Henry, and I find it interesting how they are created very gothically and with ominous dialogue at the end to suggest disconnection and guilt on Henry’s part. “The film surprised, too, because it included, graphically, some elements from the ruthless side of the young king excised from Olivier’s more heroic portrait” (Crowl, 34).
I also agree with a third point that Crowl makes, “The score romanticizes the English victory in a way that the battle’s images do not, opening the door for Branagh’s detractors to accuse such moments in his films of being ideologically unstable and politically pernicious” (Crowl, 30). This explains the point I was getting at earlier in the essay of his heroism being emphasized within the film versus the audience’s reaction which, in my view, is strongly less heroic and ruthless. The battle scenes within the film also show Henry’s ruthlessness in that he ordered the action of the war. Branagh’s techniques on the cinematic battlefield depict violence in nearly every way possible. It all comes down to what I think Branagh was trying to portray about war; that if you put country against country someone will lose, if you put sword to sword, someone dies. There’s no getting past it.
Lastly, it was also interesting that Branagh left in the last chorus that discusses how Henry V’s actions were pretty much pointless because the throne of France was lost soon after. Olivier left that last chorus out of Henry the Fift, losing that use of Memento Mori – or reminder of death. All of these techniques lead me to believe that “by a shrewd merger of art and commerce, Kenneth Brannagh magically resuscitated the Shakespeare movie just when everyone was announcing its death at the hands of television” (Rothwell, 234).