Film: Chimes At Midnight (1965)

Comprised of two parts of Henry IV, Chimes At Midnight chiefly concerns the character Falstaff (Welles) and his mentee, Prince Hal. Falstaff’s leanings toward self-destruction help create a feel that England is doomed.

Welles directed this 1965 film. It starred, in addition to Welles, Jeanne Moreau, Margaret Rutherford, and as Henry IV, John Gielgud.

Moreau had worked with and for Welles in 1962’s The Trial. She was also well-known as a part of the French New Wave, having starred in Truffaut’s opus Jules et Jim.

Gielgud was a Shakespeare specialist; while mainly a star of the stage, he’d also performed in film versions of Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet, and Hamlet. As Henry IV, he delivers the “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown” speech.

Welles biographer Charles Higham writes:
Most remarkable is a battle scene that rivals Eisenstein
in its evocation of a medieval world. Welles shows
the panoply of battle and its essential weirdness...
knights in armor being lowered onto their horses
by rope and pulley, horses trotting through the mist
of a forest, armies clashing with a thud of flesh and
armor, and then, in a shocking image, faces splashed
with blood and feet tangled in stirrups as the soundtrack
fills with the screaming of the wounded.

As for the reception of the film, Higham’s prose is equally illuminating:
The technical unevenness of the movie, its lack of commercial
appeal, and the negative reviews...set the seal
of doom on Welles’s career for the 1960s.


Higham, Charles. Orson Welles: The Rise and Fall of An American Genius. New York: St. Martin’s. 1985.


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