The spirit that drove this production of "Henry V" to completion translates directly onto screen into an exciting epic.
1944: one of the darkest periods in British history, when the country was close to breaking point with the continued onslaught of Second World War. As part of a relentless propaganda effort to buoy the national spirit, the government commissioned Laurence Olivier to produce a film that would rally all that saw it.
"Henry V" was an ideal Shakespeare play for adaptation. In it, a young King Henry invades France, but despite amassing thousands of troops, progress is not easy against a well-equipped French army. Where the tide begins to turn is at the crucial Battle of Agincourt, where the superior skill of the English longbows and a better defensive position secures an important victory.
That the film should get made at all was an extraordinary achievement, but Olivier, in his directing debut, also gave us the first large-scale radical movie re-interpretation of Shakespeare long before others.
The action opens in the Globe Theatre, but as the camera closes in, this space expands into the infinite scope that the medium of film offers. Many of the sets are still painted backdrops, but these melt away entirely for the superb battle scenes that were shot in neutral Ireland, using thousands of Irish regular soldiers as extras.
Olivier pared down the play into a simpler script that could be enjoyed by the masses, but retained the all-important essence of the piece. As director, co-screenwriter, and lead actor, his responsibilities on this production were great but he answered his call to boost the war effort with flair and creativity, turning a limited budget and tough wartime conditions into a Technicolor epic that proved a massive hit.