The Hollow Crown: Shakespeare’s History Plays

Synopsis: Richard II

Short Synopsis
KING RICHARD is called upon to settle a dispute between his cousin HENRY BOLINGBROKE and THOMAS MOWBRAY. RICHARD calls for a duel but then halts it just before swords clash. Both men are banished from the realm. RICHARD visits JOHN OF GAUNT, BOLINGBROKE’s Father, who, in the throes of death, reprimands the King. After seizing GAUNT’s money and lands, RICHARD leaves for wars against the rebels in Ireland. BOLINGBROKE returns to claim back his inheritance. Supported by his allies, NORTHUMBERLAND and the DUKE OF YORK, BOLINGBROKE takes RICHARD prisoner and lays claim to the throne.

RICHARD II is played by Ben Whishaw, BOLINGBROKE by Rory Kinnear, MOWBRAY by James Purefoy, JOHN OF GAUNT by Patrick Stewart, NORTHUMBERLAND by David Morrissey and DUKE OF YORK by David Suchet.

Long Synopsis
The film begins as KING RICHARD II (Ben Whishaw) is asked to mediate a bitter dispute between his cousin, HENRY BOLINGBROKE (Rory Kinnear) and THOMAS MOWBRAY (James Purefoy). BOLINGBROKE has been brought before the King by his father, JOHN OF GAUNT (Patrick Stewart), and is accusing MOWBRAY of being a traitor. MOWBRAY retaliates by calling BOLINGBROKE a slanderous coward. The row escalates until both men throw down their gages to spark a physical challenge. RICHARD appeals for peace but soon realises the only option is for the dispute to be resolved by a duel and sets a date for the battle to take place in Coventry.

On a beautiful summer’s day some time later, the court waits expectantly for the challenge to begin. But just as BOLINGBROKE and MOWBRAY assume their positions to commence battle, RICHARD halts proceedings. The King summons the two opponents to his tent where, joined by JOHN OF GAUNT, he exclaims that no blood should be spilt in settling this score. RICHARD places a charge of banishment from the country upon both men – BOLLINGBROKE for ten years and MOWBRAY for life. They place their hands on RICHARD’s sword and swear upon God’s name to keep the oath. As MOWBRAY leaves, JOHN OF GAUNT appeals to the King, his nephew, to reduce the sentence for fear that he will die before BOLINGBROKE will be able to return. The King agrees to banishment for six years. After returning to their Lands in the North GAUNT bids farewell to his son.

As RICHARD is entertained by his courtiers news arrives that JOHN OF GAUNT has been taken ill and calls for the King to pay him a visit. Whilst the King travels to his elderly uncle’s castle, GAUNT speaks with his brother the DUKE OF YORK (David Suchet) and the EARL OF NORTHUMBERLAND (David Morrissey). YORK fears that GAUNT ‘s intended advice to RICHARD will fall upon deaf ears but GAUNT hopes to persuade the vain King that his rule cannot last if he continues to treat England in such a manner. As YORK predicts, RICHARD indeed has no patience with GAUNT and has more concern with taking his uncle’s wealth to fund wars in Ireland. NORTHUMBERLAND announces that GAUNT has died. YORK pleads with RICHARD to leave GAUNT’s wealth for his banished son BOLINGBROKE to claim upon his return, but the King will not listen.

Ben Whishaw as Richard II

Ben Whishaw as Richard II

Later that evening, NORTHUMBERLAND speaks with LORD ROSS (Peter De Jersey) AND LORD WILLOUGHBY (Adrian Schiller) about the King’s behaviour and his grievous treatment of his people. NORTHUMBERLAND tells the Lords of news he’s received from France: BOLINGBROKE and other noblemen have gathered an army and intend on returning as soon as RICHARD has left for Ireland. NORTHUMBERLAND, ROSS and WILLOUGHBY agree to join him.

In the palace, SIR JOHN BUSHY (Ferdinand Kingsley) tries to comfort QUEEN ISABELLA (Clémence Poésy). Her fears are confirmed when SIR HENRY GREEN (Harry Hadon Paton) announces that BOLINGBROKE has landed on English soil. YORK joins them and, as Governor in RICHARD’S absence, is clearly distressed about the news. Although his loyalties lie with the King, his conscience favours BOLINGBROKE. BUSHY, BAGOT (Samuel Roukin) and GREEN agree to leave the Palace for fear of their safety.

YORK, meanwhile, travels to meet BOLINGBROKE who has been joined by NORTHUMBERLAND, ROSS and WILLOUGHBY. The Duke berates BOLINGBROKE for daring to return to England but is again divided by his loyalty to RICHARD and his sympathy for BOLINGBROKE. YORK agrees to remain neutral.

Title page of Richard II, from the fifth quarto, published in 1615.

Title page of Richard II, from the fifth quarto, published in 1615.

BOLINGBROKE returns to GAUNT’s castle where ROSS and WILLOUGHBY are holding prisoner two of RICHARD’s loyal supporters – BUSHY and GREEN. BOLINGBROKE sentences them to death for having caused a rift between RICHARD and the QUEEN and for turning RICHARD against him, resulting in banishment. RICHARD returns from the war and is met by AUMERLE (Tom Hughes) and BAGOT who tells the King his Welsh army has defected to BOLINGBROKE. SIR STEPHEN SCROOP (Tom Goodman-Hill) arrives with the news of BUSHY and GREEN’s demise and, furthermore, admits that YORK is with BOLINGBROKE.

RICHARD takes refuge in Flint Castle and waits to meet his challenger. BOLINGBROKE tells NORTHUMBERLAND that he will kneel before the King and pledge allegiance if RICHARD will repeal his banishment and restore his inheritance. Reluctantly, RICHARD agrees to all the demands. Richard suspects that BOLINGBROKE will not let him remain as King. and remains unconvinced of BOLINGBROKE’S loyalty.

The QUEEN is walking through YORK’s garden with her LADY IN WAITING (Isabella Laughland). They overhear the GARDENER (David Bradley) telling his ASSISTANT (Simon Trinder) that BOLINGBROKE has seized RICHARD. The QUEEN rushes forward to hear more and forces the GARDENER to confirm the news.

YORK arrives at Westminster Hall and announces to the gathered Lords and noblemen that RICHARD has descended the throne and BOLINGBROKE is now the rightful KING HENRY IV. RICHARD enters and offers the crown to BOLINGBROKE. NORTHUMBERLAND asks RICHARD to read a list of the crimes he has committed against the country and to acknowledge that he is worthily deposed. RICHARD refuses and asks for permission to leave. KING HENRY calls for RICHARD to be conveyed to the Tower and sets the date for his own coronation.

The QUEEN waits for RICHARD runs to see him as he approaches. As the guards break them apart RICHARD tells her to go back to France and think of him as dead. NORTHUMBERLAND orders the QUEEN to France.

At his residence YORK tells the DUCHESS OF YORK (Lindsay Duncan) how the people of London welcomed the new King and threw dust and dirt upon RICHARD as he was led to the Tower. A letter carried by their son AUMERLE, reveals a plot to kill KING HENRY. YORK leaves to warn the King but the DUCHESS encourages AUMERLE to reach the King before his father and ask for his forgiveness. As AUMERLE begs for some time alone with the King, YORK arrives and tells KING HENRY there is a traitor in his presence. They are interrupted by the DUCHESS who kneels before KING HENRY and begs him to forgive AUMERLE. The King eventually grants a pardon for AUMERLE but orders the execution of the others involved in the conspiracy.

RICHARD, alone in his cavernous cell, contemplates his fate but is interrupted by his GROOM (Daniel Boyd) who describes KING HENRY’s coronation day. AUMERLE enters the room carrying a crossbow and is followed by a group of servants. RICHARD kills one of the attackers before AUMERLE looses a bolt at Richard. More and more arrows hit RICHARD who drops to the floor.

As KING HENRY sits in state at Westminster Hall, NORTHUMBERLAND, ROSS and WILLOUGHBY arrive with news of the conspirators’ deaths and reveal the deposed heads of RICHARD’s courtiers, BAGOT and SCROOP. AUMERLE enters the room dragging a coffin containing the corpse of RICHARD. Watched by YORK, KING HENRY, full of woe, walks over to RICHARD’s body and embraces it. He vows to mourn for RICHARD and to make a voyage to the Holy Land to wash the blood from his hands.