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You Should Be Watching: 'The Hollow Crown'

If you yearn for a cinematic presentation of Shakespeare’s history plays, then binge-watch “The Hollow Crown.” With superlative casting and bold directing, “The Hollow Crown” perfectly translates the Bard into the language of modern television.

Title: “The Hollow Crown”

Year it began: 2012

Where it can be seen: BBC; Amazon; PBS; DVD

Who’s in it: Ben Whishaw, Rory Kinnear, Jeremy Irons, Tom Hiddleston, Simon Russell Beale, Sophie Okonedo, Tom Sturridge, Benedict Cumberbatch, Keeley Hawes, Judi Dench, Patrick Stewart, Ben Miles

Typical episode length: 130 minutes

Number of episodes to date: 7

Brief plot description: The show serializes William Shakespeare’s history plays covering events from Richard II’s dethroning to Richard III’s violent fall. Following courtiers and kings, we experience a tense England in the eras of the Hundred Years War and the Wars of the Roses.

Why it’s worth watching: “The Hollow Crown” offers first-rate adaptations of Shakespeare’s history plays in a format that invites television binge-watching.

Simply put, the series makes Shakespeare’s history plays come to vivid life. This big-budget BBC production allows viewers to viscerally feel the scope and intensity of turbulent English times by letting talented directors take full advantage of sumptuous outdoor locations, gorgeous interior sets, and a first-rate cast of actors. The series finds a perfect balance between respecting the original language and relating to modern audiences: viewers get the essential parts of these plays translated into a modern cinematic medium.

Each installment is fantastic on its own, while also seamlessly blended into a sometimes achingly beautiful series that takes us from Richard II’s deposition through the uneasy years of the usurper Henry IV, through the military triumphalism of Henry V’s short reign, and into the civil strife of the Wars of the Roses. The cast is uniformly excellent, from the leads down to the minor players.

Two phenomenal performances bookend the series: Whishaw’s arresting presentation of how alienating the effete and imperious Richard II must have been, and Cumberbatch’s thrilling turn as the maniacally driven and fiercely cunning Richard III.

Other outstanding performances include Kinnear’s steely Henry Bolingbroke; Irons’ aloof and intense Henry IV; Hiddleston’s Henry V, who moves deftly from ne’er-do-well youth to royal prince; Beale’s earthy and chaotic Falstaff; Okonedo’s ambitious, intense and imperious Queen Margaret; Miles’ sensuous and deeply unethical Somerset; and Sturridge’s awkward and yet strangely charismatic Henry VI. – Randy P. Schiff

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