Members of the few, the happy few, the band of brothers: The unique experience of playing Henvy V revealed

As Jude Law takes the stage to play the part, some of the best actors explain why Henry V, not Hamlet, is the true rite of passage

Jamie Parker, The Globe, 2012

Parker, one of the originals in  The History Boys, said he had been preparing for the “extraordinary” role of the warrior king all his life. “It was a goal fulfilled. I had been working towards that since the age of eight when I saw Kenneth Branagh and Laurence Olivier’s Henrys. Since then it was the one I always wanted to do.

“It is the most significant role in my life. He’s probably my only fictional role model. He is the alchemist – when it’s all going wrong, he’ll pull something out of the bag.”

Henry’s drama, Parker said, is in how much farther he could be pushed. “How much pressure can you put on one man’s soul until it breaks? In every single scene there’s temptation, doubt and frailty for him. What redeems him is his desire to grip it harder, he keeps going.”

Parker finished the run of eight performances a week exhausted, with a bad knee and ruptured intercostal muscles, and on steroids for his throat. “I was knackered and emotionally invested in the play’s success. [But] having done that, I left a lot of worries behind about acting. I’ve been a lot more relaxed on stage ever since.”

Mark Rylance, The Globe, 1997

The Globe’s first season was opened by Henry V directed by Sir Laurence Olivier’s son Richard. It starred Rylance, who was described by one critic as “magnificent, with a quiet intensity that is almost hypnotic”. The actor said he wanted to study the “birth and nurturing of a leader. The politics of leadership as opposed to how patriotic someone is.”

Adrian Lester, The National Theatre, 2003

Henry V also kicked off another era: that of Nicholas Hytner at the National Theatre. In his version, the play was updated to the Iraq war.

“He’s every young man’s dream,” Lester said. “Able  to take charge, to react well and lead. To be witty and read people, to spot who would do him wrong. He’s a historical army superhero, but he’s  also deeply vulnerable and eloquent.

“I tried to imagine what it would be like now for a crowned king who had previously spent a lot of time hanging out with a gang in the East End. I didn’t want to lose any of that headstrong, street-savvy nature the prince would have.”

Many of the actors were attracted by the soliloquy known as the “dark night of the soul” speech in which, the night before Agincourt, Henry questions the very idea of ruling and servitude and “he feels like he’s going to die in the morning”, Lester said.

“What he goes through – asking for forgiveness, berating the crown, berating the common people who don’t have to go through what he does – is quite a cathartic scene. I found it tricky but really liberating.”

Kenneth Branagh, RSC, 1984

In 1984, Kenneth Branagh became, at 24, the youngest actor in the history of the Royal Shakespeare Company to play Henry V. Five years later, he adapted it into a successful film, which starred three other actors, Ian Holm, Derek Jacobi and Michael Williams, who had all played Henry on the stage. Branagh said in 1998 that he chose to respond to the character’s doubt early on, to “the caution, the nervousness, the youth and the guilt”. He would go on to say it was about the “personal journey of an individual who was growing into what was required of a statesman”.

Shaun Johnson, Duchess Theatre/Old Vic Tunnels

One of the more extraordinary portrayals was that by a theatre company comprised of military veterans.

Shaun Johnson, one of the actors to play Henry, said: “We were bringing the military aspect through it, of one unit, literally a band of brothers. We wanted Henry to be part of us, and we part of him. We wanted his blood in all of us.”

The Combat Veteran Players help ex-soldiers cope with mental health issues through theatre. Johnson, who served 11 years with the Royal Artillery, discovered the company after struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder and said it had “changed lives”.

Taking on Henry V “was a challenge, but it resonated with the guys. It was very carefully put together as we had to be cautious about how we tapped into our emotions.

On delivering the St Crispin’s Day speech, he said: “I clench my fists and I’m talking to a bunch of soldiers back in unit. I’m remembering  when I was a young soldier going out on ops, our rallying call. It reminded me just how it was.”

Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Arts and Entertainment


These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
Arts and Entertainment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

    UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London