The heir to the throne, PRINCE HAL, defies his father, KING HENRY, by spending his time at MISTRESS QUICKLY’s tavern in the company of the dissolute FALSTAFF and his companions. The King is threatened by a rebellion led by HAL’s rival, HOTSPUR, his father NORTHUMBERLAND and his uncle WORCESTER. In the face of this danger to the state, PRINCE HAL joins his father to defeat the rebels at the BATTLE OF SHREWSBURY and kill HOTSPUR in single combat.
PRINCE HAL is played by Tom Hiddleston, KING HENRY by Jeremy Irons, MISTRESS QUICKLY by Julie Walters, FALSTAFF by Simon Russell Beale, HOTSPUR by Joe Armstrong, NORTHUMBERLAND by Alun Armstrong and WORCESTER by David Hayman.
We see a tall young man walking through the hustle and bustle of a meat market, occasionally recognised by the stallholders. It is PRINCE HAL (Tom Hiddleston) who approaches the large door of a tavern, over which hangs a carved Boar’s Head. HAL enters the tavern and kisses the landlady MISTRESS QUICKLY (Julie Walters) who clearly adores him. HAL climbs the staircase to a narrow corridor and goes towards a room where sounds of snoring can be heard…
In the Palace of Westminster, KING HENRY, HAL’s Father is told by the EARL OF WESTMORELAND (James Laurenson) that English forces, led by MORTIMER (Harry Lloyd), have been defeated by Welsh rebels, led by GLENDOWER (Robert Pugh). And that there has been fighting between Scottish insurgents and the ‘gallant’ HARRY PERCY, known as HOTSPUR (Joe Armstrong). KING HENRY interrupts WESTMORELAND to read a letter from SIR WALTER BLUNT (Jolyon Coy. HOTSPUR has won the battle and taken many prisoners in doing so. It is a bitter sweet moment for the King who can only wish that his own son were as honourable as HOTSPUR. HAL’s less reputable interests lie elsewhere.
Back in the Boar’s Head Tavern, HAL looks down on the sleeping figure of FALSTAFF (Simon Russell Beale) who has fallen asleep drunk next to DOLL TEARSHEET (Maxine Peake). FALSTAFF stirs and is affectionately berated by HAL for his questionable lifestyle. They’re joined by EDWARD POINS (David Dawson) who reveals that he plans to rob a group of rich travellers who will be passing through Canterbury in the morning. FALSTAFF agrees to join him but HAL refuses. POINS asks FALSTAFF to give him time alone with the Prince and explains to HAL that he is planning a joke on FALSTAFF: whilst FALSTAFF and others rob the travellers, he and HAL will disguise themselves and in turn rob the stolen goods from FALSTAFF. HAL eventually agrees.
KING HENRY summons HOTSPUR to the palace to explain why prisoners from Scotland have not been handed over. HOTSPUR, accompanied by his father, NORTHUMBERLAND (Alun Armstrong), and WORCESTER, tells the King that he lost his temper with a Lord, ‘perfumed like a milliner’, who demanded the prisoners on his majesty’s behalf. BLUNT asks the King to consider the circumstances and forgive HOTSPUR, but KING HENRY reveals that HOTSPUR still holds the prisoners and will not release them until a ransom is paid for MORTIMER (HOTSPUR’s brother-in-law), who has been held hostage by GLENDOWER. The King will not agree and, forbidding any further mention of MORTIMER, demands the prisoners are sent to him.
As they walk back through the Palace, HOTSPUR tells NORTHUMBERLAND and WORCESTER that he will never release the prisoners and calls HENRY a ‘thankless’ King. WORCESTER outlines a plan for revenge. He tells HOTSPUR to release his prisoners without ransom, join forces with their Scottish ally, the EARL OF DOUGLAS (Stephen McCole), and enlist the help of the ARCHBISHOP OF YORK, whose brother was executed by the younger KING HENRY. HOTSPUR agrees and suggests they also join forces with MORTIMER. A plot is hatched.
On a cold winter’s morning, HAL and POINS shelter behind a tree in a forest, disguised in cloaks, watching FALSTAFF, BARDOLPH (Tom Georgeson) and PETO (Ian Conningham) as they prepare to attack the travellers. POINS confesses he has hidden FALSTAFF’s horse for a joke and it has clearly riled their friend. FALSTAFF BARDOLPH & PETO leap out from behind the trees and attack and rob the travellers. As FALSTAFF suggests that HAL and POINS are cowards for abandoning them, HAL and POINS jump out from the woods and set upon their friends. FALSTAFF drops the money and the three of them run away, much to the amusement of HAL and POINS.
As we see HOTSPUR prepare to leave his wife, KATE PERCY (Michelle Dockery), to join his fellow conspirators, HAL, at the opposite end of the spectrum, is back in the Boar’s Head Tavern with his miscreant friends. News reaches HAL that he has been summoned to see the King in the morning, prompting FALSTAFF and himself to act out the inevitable questioning he will receive. Cheered on by the taverners, FALSTAFF places a cooking pot on his head for a crown and entertain his friends. The jollity is interrupted however when MISTRESS QUICKLY announces that the SHERIFF (John Ashton) is at the door with a large party. The crowd disperses and FALSTAFF hides under the stairs. HAL answers to the SHERIFF who has brought with him the two travellers who were robbed earlier. There has been a tip off that the culprit, FALSTAFF, is in the Tavern. HAL denies that FALSTAFF is present and promises to send FALSTAFF to the SHERIFF the next day. After the SHERIFF has left, HAL, DOLL TEARSHEET and POINS find FALSTAFF asleep in his hiding place. They search his pockets and find only a bill for food and drink. PETO takes FALSTAFF’S signet ring. HAL leaves the Tavern, ready to face his father in the morning.
Inside the Palace of Westminster, KING HENRY speaks with HAL in private. Infuriated by HAL’s behaviour, KING HENRY shames his son by pointing out how his younger brother has had to take on his responsibilities. He compares HAL to Richard II who lost the respect of the public by being too concerned with popularity and suggests that even HOTSPUR – despite being aware of his conspiracy – has more interest in the state than HAL. Accepting his father’s comments, HAL tells KING HENRY that he will redeem himself on HOTSPUR’S head and prove himself as the King’s honourable son. KING HENRY tells HAL he will take charge of his army as they prepare to fight the rebels.
HOTSPUR, MORTMER and GLENDOWER meet in Wales to discuss their plans and the division of land should they come to power. Before HOTSPUR, MORTIMER and WORCESTER depart, GLENDOWER takes them to say goodbye to their wives. LADY MORTIMER (Alex Clatworthy), daughter of GLENDOWER, speaks no English and sings in welsh to her husband as a parting gift. As she does, HOTSPUR and LADY PERCY make their escape to say farewell in private.
Back in the Boar’s Head Tavern, FALSTAFF and MISTRESS QUICKLY bicker over the items that have been stolen from his pocket. HAL arrives and admits to FALSTAFF that it was he who picked his pocket and knows full well there was nothing of value to be found. FALSTAFF asks whether the robbery has been settled and HAL admits he has paid back the money to release FALSTAFF from the charge. HAL then tells FALSTAFF that they must leave tomorrow to fight HOTSPUR.
At Shrewsbury, HOTSPUR, WORCESTER and DOUGLAS, their Scottish ally, prepare their troops for battle. After hearing that his father, NORTHUMBERLAND, is sick and cannot join them, HOTSPUR is further troubled when envoys arrive with news that KING HENRY is ready for battle and HAL himself is joining the fight. HOTSPUR bursts out of the tent and shouts to his troops to prepare for war. Meanwhile, FALSTAFF, BARDOLPH and their soldiers are on the march to Shrewsbury. With his very sorry, ragged and weak bunch of men, FALSTAFF admits that he sold 150 soldiers in return for three hundred pounds. By contrast to FALSTAFF’s dishonest behaviour, HAL, with his new sense of loyalty, catches up with them, ready and eager for battle.
KING HENRY sends SIR WALTER BLUNT to the rebels’ camp in Shrewsbury to find out the cause of HOTSPUR’s grievances. The King wants to know if there’s a way to resolve the matter and, in return, will pardon those who challenge him. HOTSPUR wastes no time in telling BLUNT that he holds the King in contempt for the lack of respect he has given his family in the years since becoming King. His father, NORTHUMBERLAND, was the first to assist the King when he returned to England to overthrow RICHARD II, and yet KING HENRY has shown no gratitude. But when BLUNT asks HOTSPUR if he should relay this message back to the King, HOTSPUR tells him that WORCESTER will speak with the King in the morning. At dawn, WORCESTER, accompanied by SIR RICHARD VERNON (Mark Tandy), presents himself at the King’s camp and reiterates HOTSPUR’s fury over the treatment of their family. HAL offers to fight HOTSPUR single-handedly to avoid any blood-shed on both sides but the KING intervenes to again extend an offer of peace. WORCESTER and VERNON return to the rebel camp. WORCESTER doesn’t believe the King will keep his word and wants to hold back the King’s offer. WORCESTER accordingly reports back to HOTSPUR that the King has no mercy and will see them in battle. Despite VERNON’s attempt to set the record straight, there is no stopping HOTSPUR. He and DOUGLAS mount their horses ready for battle.
The fight commences: as drummers beat a martial rhythm, cavalry and pikemen move forward to start the battle. FALSTAFF urges his men forward but saunters along on foot, reluctant to go near the front line. Falstaff finds Blunt dead on the battlefield. HAL, having lost his helmet and sword rides past and demands FALSTAFF’s sword. FALSTAFF instead offers him a pistol – with wine hidden inside the case. HAL, appalled at his lack of regard for the situation, throws it back at him and rides off.
As the battle rages, HOTSPUR sees a Knight stop running to lean on his sword, remove his helmet and catch his breath. As he turns, we see the Knight is HAL and the two enemies come face to face. They begin to fight, unaware that FALSTAFF is watching from his hiding place behind a tree. HAL fatally wounds HOTSPUR. HOTSPUR utters his last words. HAL walks away after seeing what he believes to be Falstaff’s corpse. FALSTAFF stirs and stabs HOTSPUR again to claim him as a prize. FALSTAFF then lifts the body onto his back and sets off to claim the victory as his own.
KING HENRY gives orders that Prisoners WORCESTER and VERNON are brought before HENRY who orders their execution. FALSTAFF throws down HOTSPUR’s body in front of HAL and LANCASTER (Henry Faber). FALSTAFF tells HAL that HOTSPUR rose up again and fought bitterly for an hour. HAL knows that FALSTAFF is lying and leaves to see who is left alive on the field.
As HAL and his brother, LANCASTER, climb to the top of the hill, their father calls out to ask for news from the field. HAL replies that victory is theirs. KING HENRY, claiming that rebellion has found its rebuke, sets off back to the camp through the debris of a bitter battle.