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Henry VI Part III (1983)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Henry VI Part III (1983)
For the BBC Television Shakespeare, tx. 16/1/1983, colour, 211 mins
DirectorJane Howell
Production CompaniesBBC Television, Time-Life Television
ProducerJonathan Miller
Script EditorDavid Snodin
DesignerOliver Bayldon
MusicDudley Simpson

Cast: Peter Benson (Henry VI), Julia Foster (Queen Margaret), Ron Cook (Richard, Duke of Gloucester), Bernard Hill (Duke of York), Mark Wing-Davey (Earl of Warwick), Brian Protheroe (Edward IV), Rowena Cooper (Lady Grey)

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With the Wars of the Roses well under way, loyalties are challenged and the crown passed back and forth from Henry to Edward, his would-be successor. But Edward's younger brother Richard has ambitions of his own...

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As much a prequel to Richard III as a successor to the first two Henry VI plays, Jane Howell's production of Henry VI Part III for the BBC Television Shakespeare cycle continues the design, staging and casting principles of its predecessors - and, like them, comprises the most complete television adaptation of the play to date.

Oliver Bayldon's adventure-playground set has been reduced to charred and weatherbeaten wood, and the colour scheme throughout is muddy brown, steely grey and bloody red, entirely appropriate for a play largely made up of battles, coups and treachery. The military clashes are depicted in fog-shrouded murk (at one point using mirrors to suggest endless lines of cannon and archers), though when snow falls during the climactic Battle of Tewkesbury, staged in oddly calm and dreamlike slow motion, it suggests that a chapter of history is finally coming to an end.

Never close, King Henry (Peter Benson) and Queen Margaret (Julia Foster) are now barely speaking, as her disgust at what she sees as his shameful capitulation to the Duke of York (Bernard Hill) in declaring him successor over their own son fires her determination to fight the latter's corner, but she ends up howling like an animal as Prince Edward (Nick Reding) is murdered by York's sons before her eyes.

But this is merely the latest instalment in a chain of casual killing and wanton destruction that epitomises Howell's view that after the death of Humphrey, the original Duke of Gloucester, in Part II: "anarchy is loosed and you're left with a very different set of values - every man for himself. You're into a time of change in which there is no code except survival of the fittest - who happens to be Richard."

Richard (Ron Cook), quietly introduced during the second half of Part II, is very much centre stage here, with frequent asides to the audience and a major soliloquy that could have been drawn from the later play that bears his name (the line "I can smile, and murder while I smile" became the poster tagline for Richard Loncraine's 1995 film of Richard III), and Part III ends seconds before he utters the fateful words "Now is the winter of our discontent". These would be broadcast a week later, when the BBC screened Howell's production of Richard III, both a continuation and a nightmarish parody of what had come before.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
1. Henry's capitulation (3:37)
2. York's paper crown (3:37)
3. Henry's murder (4:46)
Henry VI Part I (1983)
Henry VI Part II (1983)
Tragedy of Richard III, The (1983)
Hill, Bernard (1944-)
BBC Television Shakespeare, The (1978-1985)
Henry VI On Screen
Henry VI: Video Materials