1989 / Best Director

Film #544: Henry V (1989)

We return now to 1989 to look at the other film that received a Best Director nomination the same year that Woody Allen got one for Crimes and Misdemeanors. We’re in for a little change of pace though as we jump from Allen’s back catalogue to a bit of Shakespeare in the form of Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Henry V for which he received nods for both his performance and his direction.

As we’ve seen throughout this journey, Oscar has a bit of a thing for Shakespearian adaptations most notably those from Laurence Olivier who won Best Picture for his version of Hamlet. Olivier was also nominated for his version of Henry V which has several differences from Branagh’s version which was released almost 45 years later. I think the best compliment I can pay Branagh is the fact that the way he’s presented the film makes the dialogue a lot easier to understand. He’s also simplified the story by cutting out a fair few scenes and making the comic scenes more dramatic therefore providing a consistent tone throughout. Additionally there’s a sense of realism in Branagh’s Henry V that I don’t think was present in either of the Olivier Shakespeare films that I’ve watched up to this point. This is probably best exemplified through the scenes representing the Battle of Agincourt which saw the characters getting down and dirty in the rain as they traipsed through mud to kill one another. The Battle scenes were possibly the film’s most gripping along with Branagh’s own delivery of the famous ‘We Happy Few’ speech before leading his men to war. Another element of the film which I liked was the way in which Branagh presented the character of The Chorus, here played by Derek Jacobi, who was dressed in modern clothes and began by introducing the film from a sound stage. The fact that The Chorus was kept separate from the action gave the audience an easy way into the film and in my opinion made it a lot more accessible.

Branagh’s performance was absolutely spellbinding and I’m not surprised that he received a Best Actor nomination which he ultimately lost to the equally deserving Daniel Day-Lewis for My Left Foot. Similarly impressive was the direction with Branagh holding the audience’s attention throughout the film’s two hour running time. However, outside of Branagh’s two nominations, the film only received one recognition from Oscar for Phyllis Dalton’s impressive costumes which actually won that year’s Award. To be fair to the Academy there weren’t any more outstanding performances outside of Branagh’s although I felt Robbie Coltrane and Judi Dench did their best as Falstaff and Mistress Quickly. However I think the make-up in the battle scenes was worthy of a nomination as was Patrick Doyle’s rousing score and Kenneth MacMillan’s cinematography. Not everything about Henry V was perfect though and I have to say that the romantic storyline between Henry and Princess Katherine of France wasn’t given any time to develop. It didn’t help that Emma Thompson was unbelievable in the role and part of me feels that it was only due to the fact that she was married to Branagh that she got the role in the first place.

Looking at the 1989 Awards as a whole I can understand why Woody Allen and Kenneth Branagh were nominated for the Best Director prize over Driving Miss Daisy’s Bruce Beresford and Field of Dreams’ Phil Alden Robinson. Whilst I think that Driving Miss Daisy deserved its nomination for Best Picture, although I’m still dubious over its win, I could easily see Henry V replacing Field of Dreams. That being said I think that Field of Dreams is a film that appealed to the sentimental side of the Academy whilst Henry V is more of a quintessentially British film. Ultimately I’m still glad that I experienced Branagh’s adaptation of Henry V and feel it was superior to the Best Picture nominated version of the film that was directed by Olivier.

Next time we start our look through the remaining 1990s Best Director nominated films with a movie that I’d never heard of prior to watching it.

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