Production cost ran to about $2 million and every cent of it is evident on the screen. The color, the sets, the expanse and the imaginative quality of the filming are unexcelled. Henry V as a picture, however, requires that the spectator takes more with him into the theatre in the way of mental preparedness than mere curiosity.
Story is considerably simpler than the boys from Hollywood turn out. Henry’s a British king, hardly more than a moppet, when, with the aid of a couple of clergymen, he cons himself into believing that he ought to muscle his way into France and stake his royal claim there on the basis of ancestry. So he loads some 30,000 men and their horses on the 15th-century version of LSTs and hies across the channel.
There are many interesting scenes and one really exciting one – the battle. With thousands of horses, knights in armor and longbowmen in colorful costumes, it’s a Technicolor setup. Strong contrast is made between the overstuffed French warriors in armor so heavy they have to be lowered onto their horses with block and tackle, and the British, who won the battle with the longbow, used by men afoot and unhindered by iron pants.
Memorable for their deft humor and poignancy are both scenes in which Renee Asherson, as Princess Katharine, appears. Even Olivier is put well back into the No. 2 spot in the scene in which he woos her.
Treatment is interesting and adds much to the general effect. Picture opens with the camera panning over London and coming into the Old Globe theatre. Heralds’ horns announce the opening of the play as the camera gets to the stage – and the show is on.
Acting, at the beginning, is in the stylized pattern of the 16th century and it doesn’t get far away from that even when the camera is given full sweep after the Old Globe has been left behind. Sets throughout also give a feeling that you haven’t left the theatre for while tri-dimensional close to the camera, they fade into purposely obvious painted scenics in the background.
1946: Nominations: Best Picture, Actor (Laurence Olivier), Color Art Direction, Scoring of a Dramatic Picture