Henry V is one of the classic Shakespearean plays to adapt, with Laurence Olivier, Kenneth Branagh, and Tom Hiddleston all playing the titular monarch. Now writer and director David Michôd is taking a shot at adapting both the play and actual history in The King which will be hitting Netflix at the start of November.
Timothée Chalamet takes on the titular role, which really does reflect Henry’s young age when he ascended to the throne. And Chalamet really owns the role. As the younger Henry, known as Hal, he is estranged from his father Henry IV, believing him to be a king that has divided the country and been the direct cause of strife in England. Instead Hal spends his days drinking with his friend Falstaff, a former knight of great renown, who is haunted by his actions in war.
The change Hal must undergo when he is suddenly named King, and given a chance to help repair the divided country is impressively played by Chalamet, who really brings out an authority and gravitas we haven’t necessarily seen him use in his acting career to date. Meanwhile Joel Edgerton plays Falstaff, as well as co-writing, and is utterly fantastic. He plays Falstaff’s weariness, and reluctance to fight superbly, and you really feel that he genuinely cares for Hal, as a surrogate father figure.
The bulk of the film follows England’s relationship with France, with Hal reluctant to start open war, but his advisors pushing him that way, especially after taunts from the French Dauphin, brilliantly played by Robert Pattinson, who is having great fun hamming up his performance as the arrogant and over the top Prince. Sean Harris plays Hal’s chief advisor in this time William Gascoigne, and does a brilliant job of disguising his motives, so you’re never quite sure what is driving his advice to Hal.
But in this story of Hal trying to navigate the egos and machination of his court The King starts to stutter a little. It never feels as though this all comes together in satisfying ways, instead feel like some great individual moments, but without strong enough connective tissue to hold them together. But when you do get sequences such as the Battle of Agincourt they are spectacular. There has been a clear move in recent years towards the gritty and realistic horrors of ancient battle, in the way Braveheart did around 25 years ago, and Michôd captures that fantastically. The battle is franetic, brutal, claustrophobic, and stunning realised, it is a shame that most people won’t get to see it on the big screen.
The King is certainly an enjoyable historical epic, driven by a number of fantastic performances, and some fantastic sequences. It is a shame that it never really coalesce into a great movie, but it is certainly worth checking out when it hits Netflix.