Karen Hall of Some Have Hats has a post extolling the virtues of Kenneth Branagh and his 1989 version of Henry V. This movie is in my top ten list of movies. There is one scene in the movie that is absolutely phenomenal on so many levels that I believe it qualifies as one of the greatest scenes on film.
The scene is at the end of the battle of Agincourt. The English forces had been outnumbered five to one prior to the battle. A note tells Henry of French that “in the field lie slain” numbering ten thousand and that the English dead besides a few nobleman numbers a mere “But five and twenty”. Henry knows that the miraculous victory belong to God alone and thus enjoins his men not to take the credit.
KING HENRY V
…But in plain shock and even play of battle,
Was ever known so great and little loss
On one part and on the other? Take it, God,
For it is none but thine!
KING HENRY V
Come, go we in procession to the village.
And be it death proclaimed through our host To boast of this or take the praise from God Which is His only.
Is it not lawful, an please your majesty, to tell
how many is killed?
KING HENRY V
Yes, captain; but with this acknowledgement,
That God fought for us.
In thanksgiving for the miraculous victory, Henry orders “Let there be sung ‘Non nobis’ and ‘Te Deum;'” Scandalously, among the dead are the boys who supported the army who were murdered by the French even though “’tis expressly against the law of arms”. As the scene unfolds, Henry traverses the battlefield carrying the body of one of the murdered boys (played by current Batman star Christian Bale).
The entire scene is shot entirely in one continuous camera shot. While not the longest continuous scene in cinema history, in my mind is is certainly one of the best. The logistics of filming a scene of four minutes under such circumstances and with such detail is as amazing as it is wondrous. Keep it in mind while you watch it.
The last thing we need to talk about before watching this remarkable scene is the music. As ordered by Henry, the Non Nobis is sung in thanksgiving for the victory.
[Wiki] Non nobis is a short Latin hymn used as a prayer of thanksgiving and expression of humility. The Latin text derives from Psalm 113:9 (according to the Vulgate numbering), which corresponds to Psalm 115:1 in the King James Version. It reads,
Non nobis, Domine, Domine, non nobis, Domine
Sed nomini, sed nomini, tuo da gloriam.
Not to us, O Lord, not to us,
But to your Name give glory.
This particular version on the Non Nobis Domine is exceptionally stirring. Karen Hall writes of this composition, “When I have to stand in the martyr line, this is what I want as the soundtrack.” Agreed. This version is composed by award winning composer Patrick Doyle. At the beginning of the clip, one of the soldiers begins singing the “Non Nobis”, this is the composer himself.
If you you have never seen Branagh’s version of Henry V, get thee to Netflix forthwith. If you have, recall this amazing scene.