In Review

The Hollow Crown: BBC accused of sexing up the Bard

Controversial sex scene features in new version of the War of the Roses

The BBC has been accused of "sexing up" William Shakespeare's work after adding a sex scene to the forthcoming instalment of its multi-million pound television adaptation The Hollow Crown, but is it justified?

The series is based on Shakespeare's history plays, with the first cycle, which aired in 2012 and featured Ben Whishaw and Tom Hiddleston, focussing on the Henriad - Richard II, Henry IV Part I, Henry IV Part II and Henry V.

The second cycle, which is due to air later this spring, forms part of the BBC's 400th anniversary celebrations of Shakespeare's death. It is subtitled The War of the Roses and includes Henry VI parts one, two and three as a single film and Richard III. 

Benedict Cumberbatch plays the scheming last Plantagenet, while Sophie Okonedo stars as Margaret of Anjou, who features in a sex scene with Ben Miles's Duke of Somerset, one of the king's henchmen.

However, the Daily Mirror points out that the scenes are from the director's imagination and their relationship is only implied by Shakespeare, "meaning purists may not be impressed".

Director Dominic Cooke defended the changes, saying: "There is definitely no doubt in the full-length play that they are involved together."

He added: "It would have been odd if we had not had that scene. It's in the story so we could not leave it out."

In the film, the "invented" sex scenes are overlaid with the murder of another major character, "with the moans of the lovers alternating with the screams of the man being hacked to death", says the Daily Telegraph.

The newspaper also quotes Cooke's reasons for including the sequence: "For me, it was really important that you saw this union between these two people – a kind of metaphor for their corruption," he said.

However, the newspaper notes that, in Shakespeare's time, the female roles would have been played by boys and quotes Professor Michael Dobson, the director of Birmingham University's Shakespeare Institute, who says: "On-stage sex between boy actors wasn't really encouraged in the 1590s. But it sounds like the BBC is carrying on exactly the way the plays were going in the first place."

The trilogy also features Tom Sturridge as Henry VI, with Dame Judi Dench, Andrew Scott, Keeley Hawes, Hugh Bonneville and Sir Michael Gambon also appearing.

The BBC's celebrations of the Bard will also include Shakespeare Live! from the RSC on the anniversary weekend of Shakespeare's death, 22 to 24 April. Directed by Gregory Doran and hosted by David Tennant, the show is intended to celebrate the enduring influence of the writer in our culture.

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