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Before James Bond, Sean Connery was Shakespeare's Harry Hotspur

A five-disc set covers BBC's 15-part series from 1960.

March 31, 2009|Susan King

Hotspur. Harry Hotspur.

Two years before Sean Connery became an international sensation as James Bond in "Dr. No," he played the role of the Scotsman Hotspur -- a.k.a. Sir Henry Percy -- in the BBC's 1960 15-part series "Shakespeare's An Age of Kings." And not only is the 30-year-old Connery easy on the eyes, he effortlessly handles the Bard's prose.

"Shakespeare's An Age of Kings," which aired in syndication on U.S. TV in 1961 and won the prestigious Peabody Award, arrives today on BBC Video in a five-disc set ($49.98). It was the most ambitious Shakespeare production ever undertaken on film or television, until the BBC adapted all 37 of the playwright's works for television between 1978 and 1985.

The series from the '60s encompassed eight of Shakespeare's historical plays -- all of "Richard II," both parts of "Henry IV" and "Henry V," all three parts of "Henry VI" and "Richard III" -- and spans the history of the British monarchy between 1377 to 1485.

Shot on black-and-white videotape on small soundstages, "An Age of Kings" had about 600 speaking parts and required 30 weeks of rehearsal before shooting. The series quickly became event television in England, airing every other Thursday for nearly seven months.

It was so popular that Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Alan Bennett and Jonathan Miller parodied "An Age of Kings" at the Edinburgh Festival in 1960.

Directed by Michael Hayes and produced by Peter Dews, the series features several other actors who, like Connery, would later become famous -- Judi Dench (Princess Katherine), Eileen Atkins (Joan of Arc) and Robert Hardy (Prince Hal).

It's best to brush up on Shakespeare before sitting down for the 15-plus hours of "An Age of Kings" -- otherwise the first three episodes can be a bit confusing. But once Hotspur and Prince Hal arrives, the series hits its stride.

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susan.king@latimes.com

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