The BBC has assembled a seriously star-studded cast for its second cycle of Hollow Crown films. From Hugh Bonneville to Michael Gambon – and later in the series, Benedict Cumberbatch and Judi Dench – British acting royalty are out in force to bring to life the Bard's history plays. First up, Henry VI Part I where we find a teenage King trying to smooth over the rivalries among his nobles whose bloody squabbles dominate the action.
Now, for many of you, the hours you slaved over Shakespeare at school may feel far behind you so allow us to refresh your memory on Shakespeare's characters – and the cast who play them...
Henry VI – Tom Sturridge
The son of warrior-king Henry V (aka Tom Hiddleston in the first Hollow Crown series), Henry remains young and untested, and struggles to mediate disagreements between his nobles. And when he marries a French earl’s daughter, Margaret, he might just have made a crucial political error…
Sturridge first appeared as a child actor in the 1996 TV adaptation of Gulliver's Travels, but made his name in 2004 film Being Julia with Jeremy Irons and Annette Benning. He's since gone on to star with Eddie Redmayne in psychological thriller Like Minds, as well as Richard Curtis comedy The Boat That Rocked and Jack Kerouac flick On the Road. On the stage, Sturridge earned a Tony nomination for his role in Broadway play Orphans.
Margaret – Sophie Okonedo
Captured from a French Earl by Suffolk, Margaret’s beauty is such that the King is persuaded to marry her. However, her comely exterior may hide a steeliness within…
One of Britain's best-loved actresses, Sophie Okonedo has earned plenty of silverware during her 25-year career since first emerging in British coming-of-age drama Young Soul Rebels. Her screen CV includes 2004's Hotel Rwanda, for which she earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress, and TV series Mrs Mandela and Criminal Justice, both of which won her Bafta nods in 2010. On the stage, Okonedo appeared in 2014 Broadway revival A Raisin in the Sun for which she won the Tony Award, with her turn in Arthur Miller's The Crucible also up for the same prize later this year. In 2010 she was awarded a CBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours list.
Gloucester – Hugh Bonneville
The Protector of the realm, Gloucester is the power behind the throne of the young Henry until he comes of age, and his closest advisor. However, his rivalry with Winchester occasionally turns to violence and may be his undoing.
For most, Hugh Bonneville is best known for his six series as Downton Abbey's patriarch Lord Grantham. His stint at the head of the Crawley family earned him international fame but, over his 25-year career, Bonneville has enjoyed a string of parts including an early role as Bernie in 1999's Notting Hill. In 2001 he received a Bafta nomination for Iris and has most recently been seen in award-winning BBC comedies Twenty Twelve and W1A.
Bishop of Winchester – Samuel West
Head of the English church and nemesis to Gloucester, Winchester suspects that his rival plans to take over the kingdom from King Henry.
The son of Timothy West and Prunella Scales, Samuel West is known for his stage work, appearing in the first ever production of Tom Stoppard's Arcadia and numerous productions in the West End. On screen, he earned a Bafta nod for his role in Howard's End opposite Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins and has most recently appeared in TV series Mr Selfridge and Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.
Plantaganet/York – Adrian Dunbar
While his father once had a claim to the throne, Plantaganet lost all titles after his execution. However, with a little maneuvering he may be able to find his way back into the King’s favour – with possibly devastating consequences for the whole realm.
Adrian Dunbar's long acting and directing career has included notable roles in My Left Foot, The Crying Game and The General. In 1991 he earned a Bafta Original Screenplay nomination for Hear My Song – the film he co-wrote and starred in. He also appeared in the first episode of Cracker and the final instalment of A Touch of Frost and has most recently thrilled audiences as Superintendent Ted Hastings in Jed Mercurio's acclaimed drama Line of Duty.
Mortimer – Michael Gambon
The uncle of Richard Plantaganet, Mortimer has spent years locked in the Tower of London thanks to his own claim to the throne.
Acting royalty Michael Gambon has enjoyed an illustrious career in theatre, television and film. Among his notable projects are The Singing Detective, Maigret and playing Professor Albus Dumbledore in the last six Harry Potter films. His career has included 13 Olivier Award nominations, with three wins, plus four Bafta TV Awards for Best Actor, taking home the top prize each time he was included in the shortlist. In 1998 he was awarded a Knighthood in the Queen's Birthday Honours list.
Talbot – Philip Glenister
The general of the English troops in France, Talbot is an extremely successful military commander who inspires great fear in the French – until he meets a young woman called Joan, and faces one of the hardest campaigns he’s ever worked for.
Philip Glenister is best known for his role as DCI Gene Hunt on BBC series Life on Mars and its sequel Ashes to Ashes. He reunited with his co-star John Simm in State of Play, Clocking Off, Sky series Mad Dogs and crime film Tuesday. More recently, he's appeared in David Walliams' Big School and 2014 drama From There to Here. He's also fronted his own Channel 4 series, For the Love of Cars, with Ant Andstead.
Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester – Sally Hawkins
A mistress and second wife to Gloucester, Eleanor later finds herself accused of sorcery and disdained by the nobles she once moved among.
Sally Hawkins made her film debut in Mike Leigh's All or Nothing and has continued to collaborate with the director in Vera Drake and Happy-Go-Lucky, the latter earning her the Golden Globe for Best Actress. Other notable roles include Rita O'Grady in Made in Dagenham and Mary Brown in 2014's Paddington. Hawkins stole the attention of Hollywood in 2013 in Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine, starring opposite Cate Blanchett in a role which saw her nominated for the Oscar, Bafta and Golden Globe.
Exeter – Anton Lesser
Exeter is an English Lord who largely stays out of proceedings, instead acting as a kind of commentator on events and remarking on the internal conflicts that characterise Henry’s reign.
Anton Lesser is no stranger to Shakespeare – as a member of the RSC he played Trolius, Romeo, Leontes and Richard III. He's up for a BAFTA TV Award for his portrayal of Thomas More in award-winning BBC drama Wolf Hall and is also known to Game of Thrones fans as Qyburn.
Somerset – Ben Miles
A key player in what would later become the Wars of the Roses, Somerset’s rivalry with Richard Plantaganet (later Duke of York) eventually endangers the English campaign.
Best known to screen audiences as Patrick Maitland in Steven Moffat's BBC comedy Coupling, Miles has since starred in a number of TV productions including Lark Rise to Candleford, A Thing Called Love and The Suspicions of Mr Whicher. In 2014 he portrayed Thomas Cromwell in the RSC's stage adaptation of Hilary Mantel novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. The production has since transferred to London and as of April 2015, was staged in New York.
Dauphin Charles – Tom Purbeck
Though Henry is the nominal King of France thanks to his father’s battles, Charles has himself crowned King and tries to recapture his kingdoms from his English rival.
Tom Byam Shaw was nominated for a 2011 Evening Standard Award for his role in The Tempest at Theatre Royal Haymarket and has also starred in Foxfinder, Salome and a revival of Tender Napalm at Southwark Playhouse. On TV, he has appeared in A Room with a View, The Bill and Grand Street.
Joan of Arc – Laura Frances-Morgan
Joan is a poor French maiden whose divine visions inspire her to stand up to the English invaders at the head of Charles’ troops, showing considerable prowess against experienced generals. However, her faith in her abilities may ultimately prove her undoing.
Laura Frances-Morgan's TV roles have included Prisoners' Wives, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, Lucky Man and the soon-to-air Dark Angel starring Joanne Froggatt. She's no stranger to the stage and Shakespeare, taking roles in The Merchant of Venice and A Midsummer Knight's Dream and playing Joan of Arc in a RADA production of Henry VI – Part 1.
Warwick – Stanley Townsend
Warwick is an English lord called on to judge various disputes during the conflicts, including the disagreements between Somerset and Planataganet and the later trial of Joan of Arc.
Irish actor Stanley Townsend began his TV career in Dublin, but has more recently landed roles in TV series The Shadow Line, 24: Live Another Day, The Tunnel and as restaurant owner Angelo in Sherlock. His film credits include Into the West, In the Name of the Father, The Libertine and The Van.
Suffolk – Jason Watkins
The man who finds Henry’s queen, Suffolk is disappointed that he can’t woo her himself. However, he believes his intimate connection to Margaret may help him gain the King’s ear.
An established stage actor, Jason Watkins earned an Olivier nomination in 2001 for A Servant For Two Masters. On television, he's appeared in Being Human, Dirk Gently, Doctor Who and W1A. In 2015 he beat Benedict Cumberbatch, Toby Jones and James Nesbitt to win the Best Actor Bafta for his lead role in The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies. Later this year he will appear as Mr Humphries in the revival of Are You Being Served?
Richard Duke of Gloucester – Benedict Cumberbatch
The Duke of Gloucester long had his eyes on the throne and will seek to do anything to get it.
Benedict Cumberbatch needs little introduction to RadioTimes.com readers. The titular star of smash-hit BBC1 drama Sherlock is now a Hollywood star in his own right with roles in The Imitation Game and 12 Years a Slave and an upcoming turn in Doctor Strange.
Buckingham – Ben Daniels
Buckingham is the figure who persuades the Citizens of London to invite Richard to take up the unoccupied throne but he steadily becomes more distanced from the King.
Known for an array of roles in many series including noughties Manchester saga Cutting It, Law & Order: UK, The Paradise and most recently House of Cards as Adam Galloway, the lover of Claire (Robin Wright)
Queen Elizabeth – Keeley Hawes
Wife of King Edward IV and mother to the young Princes Edward and Richard, their marriage and the birth of their offspring appear to secure the throne for the Yorkists. But when Edward dies, things do not prove to be quite that simple…
A TV favourite she has wowed audiences most recently as the complex Lindsay Denton in Line of Duty and her far more gentler turn as Matriarch Louise Durrell in the ITV drama about the eccentric family.
King Louis – Andrew Scott
Margaret’s ally who seek to place Henry back on the throne
Actor best known for his dazzling turn as the dastardly Moriarty in Sherlock has also enjoyed roles in the James Bond film Spectre as Max Denbigh and an array of acclaimed theatre and radio roles. Has won two Olivier Awards.
The Hollow Crown: the Wars of the Roses – Henry VI Part II Saturday May 14 at 9:00pm on BBC2