“I know thee not, old man.”–Henry V to Falstaff (signalling his major character change with changing social role, and betrayal of close friendship)
A merry tale, adapted from Shakespeare’s Henry plays by director/lead actor Orson Welles, gradually turns serious and ends in sorrow. The tale of a friendship and betrayal between Sir John Falstaff and Henry V, the young Prince of Wales. But, in actuality, three stories for the price of one: Falstaff’s, Henry IV’s and Henry V’s. The former two are father figures to young Hal (ably portrayed by Keith Baxter)–Falstaff, the wish-fulfillment father of fun, play, and lies; Henry IV the guilt-ridden, serious-minded, responsible, anxiety-dream parent alienated from his son and disapproving of his distractions.
Welles is ably supported by Sir John Gielgud (Henry IV), Margaret Rutherford (in a surprising turn as Mistress Quickly), and Jeanne Moreau (as Doll). Edmond Richard’s black and white cinematography is excellent in the castle scenes (light streaming in from the cut-out windows) and stylized battle scenes (which inspired Kenneth Branagh’s in his Henry V). Alberto Lavagnino’s appropriate music moves from gaiety to high seriousness, to poignant sadness. The 1965 film’s print has been cleaned up both visually and aurally, easily making this Welles’ best/most flawless Shakespeare production. Welles himself is Falstaff; no other actor has ever done this role better.
The theme of betrayal of friendship actually runs through several other Welles’ movies–Citizen Kane, Othello, Macbeth, The Third Man, The Lady from Shanghai, and Touch of Evil.