The Hollow Crown @ The BBC

Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more. Only this time bring us proper screen stars. Poirot; The Pope; Loki; that lawyer lass off the telly; that French bird that looks like a ferret. And filmic production values. Gilded tents, monkeys, wibbling lemon posset breats, ye olde stinking pubbes, Hobbiton stone bridges with willows trailing tresses in streams. And beaches. Lots of beaches. We shall Bard them on the beaches. Oh, and Simon Russell Beale in a fat suit, marinating pinkly in his own talent. Boom!

The BBC's Hollow Crown - which I have only just got round to ploughing my way through - was the true Cultural Olympiad of this summer. Sure, it looked great, portraying Britain's brooding, bucolic beauty in an Opening Ceremony sort of way. But it was chiefly a glittering showcase for our young actors, who proved that their thespian muscles are as honed and world-beating as any Ennis washboard.

Hiddleston, Kinnear, Wishaw and Armstrong were the emotional athletes who shone. Oh, the old guard were magnificent, of course. Simon Russell Beale was almost too painful to watch as Falstaff, evoking a world of fathomless, sodden, self-hating hunger in one piggy glitter of his eyes. David Suchet played the Duke of York so utterly like a real normal honest-to-God human being that anyone acting beside him started to look like, well, an actor. The women didn't really get a look in, but then these are histories after all. No, this show belonged to the boys, and they did us proud.

Hiddleston was a delicious sprite of a prince and a delicately ambiguous king. But it was Ben Whishaw's MJ-via-Gadaffi-via-Jesus Richard II, particularly when delivering the Act V Scene V prison soliloquy, who was the real gold medallist for me. Why is he not more famous than Olivier? He's better, goddammit, and it's not just 'style.'

Shakespeare acts like carbon dating for British culture. Productions of his plays unfailingly hold a mirror up to the decades in which they are created, and none more so than Henry V. If the Hollow Crown speaks of our collective vision of humanity, heroism and horror in summer 2012, we're not doing badly.

We're not doing badly at all.