The King (2019)
Director: David Michod | Runtime: 2h 20mins | Drama, History
The young and rebellious Prince Hal (Timothee Chalamet) is crowned king after his Father, Henry IV (Ben Mendelsohn), dies. Surrounded by untrustworthy council and an adjusting kingdom, newly crowned Hal invades France to cement himself as King Henry V.
In a post-Game of Thrones world it’s difficult to see past any sword and armor epics without making a comparison, or even the looseness of this Henry V story will struggle to have Shakespeare mentioned when talking about it’s narrative. But through all this comparison, The King manages to find it’s own voice. Ripe with visual grittiness and a cast to die for, Netflix’s latest ‘epic’ of sorts is a wonderful balance of traditional thespian-like performances mixed the accessibility of a Hollywood interpretation. Arguably it’s helped by such a great cast, especially the King himself Timothee Chalamet, who’s popularity has skyrocketed since his touching performance in Call Me By Your Name (2017).
Before he was crowned Henry V, though, he was merely Prince Hal. A young and rebellious prince who’s connection to his father is fractured due to his pro-peace outlook on life. In a time when battles and royalty were such a keen figure it seems as though Prince Hal has been cast aside as a lost cause, with only one companion to drink with, Falstaff (played by Joel Edgerton who also co-wrote the screenplay). These opening scenes of Hal often drag, but they successfully build the type of person he will eventually become. That’s something that both Michod and Edgerton do well with their script, is painting Henry V as an individualistic character both flawed but never immature. It’s not until Hal ceremoniously defeats Hotspur in a unstylised one-on-one fight, taking the limelight away from his brother, that he becomes the heir to his father’s throne. Once on the throne though, the film kicks it into fifth gear and begins to open up what the story is really about.
You could argue we don’t see enough of Mendelsohn as Henry IV, but the story was never about him. There is no particular paternal struggle within the film but rather the contrast in a peace-driven King and an untrustworthy surrounding. As Falstaff so delicately puts it, “A King has no friends. Only followers and foe.” This is an aspect that the film keeps a keen eye on until the very end of the movie, using Chalamet’s wonderful emotional prowess to highlight confusion, deceit and eventually a level respect. Early scenes see him struggling with with his closest confidantes as they conspire against him, and in one of many power-plays he decides to execute his own cousin. It’s small scenes like this that motivate the story and push it naturally to where it hits it’s most exciting point, the invasion of France.
From the cinematography to each and every performance, the bulk of film shows an elevation in quality. Chalamet, while showing his heartthrob tendencies and undeniable charisma, actually showcases a lot more range, and in a similar fashion to his character gains the respect of every peer around him. The cinematography, as well as Edgerton and Michod’s script, is particularly wonderful in capturing both the individuality of character dynamics and the overall grandeur of the each battle you’re watching. To top it all off you have Robert Pattinson stealing the minimal scenes he’s in, with a campy French accent and arrogance that seems to fit perfectly into the world built around him.
The Battle of Agincourt is where you might find the most Game of Thrones comparisons, similar to the boggy battlefield that overwhelms everyone in Battle of the Bastards, but the truth is that even during it’s biggest parts for comparison, Michod is quick to subvert the glorification of battle, as Robert Pattinson’s Dauphin can barely stand in the mud-caked field and loses his balance hilariously, it’s Chalamet’s stoic look that tells the story. There is no stylising such atmosphere, and the ideas of singled-out heroism have no place among such warfare. It’s details like this that make The King ripe with underlying strength.
Never forgetting the wonderful thespians that bring Shakespeare to life, The King is vaguely reminiscent of Sir Laurence Olivier and Kenneth Brannagh, and even though it may not be the tour-de-force that Kurzel’s Macbeth (2015) was, but it certainly has the accessibility that the Fassbender lead one lacks. Despite being a slow-starter you can’t deny the entertainment on show, and while Shakespeare fans may not appreciate the toned down version it makes up for it with it’s crafty script and ideals on individual heroism.