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Chapter 17 - Henry V and the Battle of Powerscourt

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 August 2023

Amy Lidster
Affiliation:
University of Oxford
Sonia Massai
Affiliation:
King's College London
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Summary

This essay explores how Laurence Olivier’s filming of the battle scenes of Henry V in neutral Eire during the Second World War was part of a broader plan by the British Ministry of Information (MoI) to influence the Irish people. Jack Beddington, of the MoI’s Film Division, worked with John Betjeman, then press attaché at the UK Representation in Eire, to facilitate Olivier’s journey to the Powerscourt estate in County Wicklow, which became a Shakespearean filmset. The essay shows that, in addition to the benefit of filming a medieval battle in a land devoid of modern warfare, the filming process itself was an ingenious way of getting around the Irish Censorship. The presence of so many filmmakers and the utilization of hundreds of Irish horses and horse riders, could not go unnoticed. Reporting of Olivier’s presence and speculation about aspects of the filming abounded, with multiple references in the Irish press – from the Irish Times to local papers – including reporting of the visit to the filmset by the key decision-maker on the island, Taoiseach Éamon de Valera. The essay demonstrates that, unlike other forms of propaganda, the making of Henry V played a key role in improving Anglo–Irish relations.

Type
Chapter
Information
Shakespeare at War
A Material History
, pp. 165 - 174
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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