‘The Hollow Crown’ review: ‘The Wars of the Roses’ continues with ‘Henry VI Part 2′

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It’s bloody battles and betrayals galore in the latest instalment of BBC Two’s The Hollow Crown.

After last week’s Henry VI: Part One, in which we saw the gentle natured king struggling with the vicious nature of court life as dissent rose and the warring families of Lancaster and York threatened to rise up, Part Two sees all that come to fruition.

The rivalry between the two sides of the Plantagenet family gets too much and the Yorks make a bid for the crown. Henry tries to prevent an all-out war with the promise that once he is dead, Plantagenet may have the crown; Plantagenet agrees, but Henry’s solution enrages Queen Margaret, who retaliates with a brutal slaughter at the York household.

Her triumph doesn’t last long, as naturally the Yorkist allies rally to march against her and Henry. The forces of York are too strong, and whilst Margaret may have killed Plantagenet, he left behind three strong sons: Edward, George and Richard. Edward becomes king, and it appears that the white rose of York has won.

There are a lot of characters with big, individual stories to tell here, but The Hollow Crown is very good at spreading out the attention and focus to make sure that everyone’s story is told in a way which doesn’t detract from anyone else.

The Hollow Crown Benedict Cumberbatch

Benedict Cumberbatch’s Richard is an obvious focus, given that the next instalment is Richard III, and Cumberbatch puts in a sharp performance as the infamous youngest son of York. He is twitchy, restless, brimming with ambition and more cruelty than his brothers seem to possess; when he has Lancastrian Clifford at his feet, wounded and dying, he hears Clifford’s plea for a quick, merciful death and responds by smiling nastily at him and walking away, leaving him to bleed out slowly.

Tom Sturridge’s Henry VI is a tragic figure and you cannot help but feel for him. He’s too squeamish to make the tough decisions, too soft-hearted for the crown; he’s not a good king, especially in such difficult times, when England needs a strong, authoritative figurehead to be respected. Everybody around him is irritated by him, impatient and condescending – not least his queen (the gloriously formidable Sophie Okonedo, in sparkling form).

The Hollow Crown: The Wars Of The Roses Henry VI (TOM STURRIDGE)

It’s easy to see it from their point of view; he is frustrating in his hesitancy. But equally, he is to be pitied – when he loses his mind and goes wandering around the fields and moors, unhinged but revelling in his apparent freedom, there is the definite sense that this was a long time coming. His is not a happy story, and essentially he is too nice for the times he lives and rules in.

Back to Okonedo; her Margaret really comes into her own in this instalment, every inch the warrior queen and the fiercely protective mother. ‘She likes to play the Amazon,’ the Yorkists scoff, but nobody was laughing when she rode into Plantagenet’s grounds and led the brutal slaughter. Okonedo shines in the role, regardless of whether Margaret is triumphant or defeated.

It has to be said: The Hollow Crown is very fond of its severed heads, and it definitely doesn’t hold back on the gore. Not something to be watched whilst eating, perhaps. But it’s an excellent piece of drama, and certainly something to be watched.

Aired at 9pm on Saturday 14 May 2016 on BBC Two.

> Buy the first season on DVD on Amazon.

> Order The Wars of the Roses on DVD on Amazon.

What did you think of this week’s episode? Let us know below…

> Read more from Amy Archer-Williams on her blog.