|'Consistently succeeds in realising the nature of the political machinations and personal quests for power that make Shakespeare's version of this period in history so gripping'|
The biggest draw of The Hollow Crown: The Wars Of The Roses for those who are partial to a bit of the Bard, but don't consider themselves ardent Shakespeare-philes, is undoubtedly Benedict Cumberbatch as the younger Richard Plantagenet, later Duke Of Gloucester and then King Richard III. Arguably the biggest name here, Cumberbatch is reliably excellent, bringing Shakespeare's most Machiavellian creation to life expertly across the second and third parts of the the series. The actor believably develops Richard from his relatively more humble beginnings supporting his father Richard (Adrian Dunbar) in his claim to the English throne through to the murderous tyrant he becomes. Cumberbatch also does well in playing Richard in his "rudely stamped" form - complete with a truly grotesque hump - without ever coming too close to replicating Laurence Olivier's famously thespian version of the character in his 1955 film.
However, watching solely to see Sherlock do Shakespeare during the final episode, Richard III, is to miss out on a wealth of superb performances from an exceptionally talented cast. Both Tom Sturridge and Sophie Okonedo as King Henry VI and Queen Margaret of Anjou respectively put in a pair of flawless performances across all three episodes, Okonedo's spirited warrior perfectly complementing Sturridge's mild and pious ruler. Other memorable turns throughout the series come from Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins and Judi Dench, although in all honesty there's not a bad performance to be found.
Condensing four plays that would likely take around twelve hours in total to perform on stage into three parts totalling around half that time is an unenviable task, and one that director Dominic Cooke and writer Ben Power take on admirably. The three parts of Shakespeare's Henry VI plays are covered through the first two episodes, and the choice of where to divide matters up feels natural and is handled well. However, the abridgement of the source material is also the main source for any shortcomings the series may have. Some of the plot developments end up feeling hurried, with a couple of changes of allegiance in particular seeming as though they come a little out of nowhere. Whilst the battles are all excellently realised, the second episode also ends up rather combat-heavy as a result of the conflation of the source material.
What the series consistently succeeds in realising, however, is the nature of the political machinations and personal quests for power that make Shakespeare's version of this period in history so gripping. The Hollow Crown: The Wars Of The Roses delivers an entire cinematic trilogy in one, bringing four of Shakespeare's historical plays to life in a vibrant, engaging and highly polished fashion.
The Hollow Crown: The Wars Of The Roses is currently available on BBC iPlayer, and will be released on UK Blu-ray and DVD on Monday 20th June 2016.