Acting like a greatest hits package of Shakespeare’s Henriad plays, Netflix period epic The King combines Henry IV (Part I and Part II) and Henry V into a historical coming-of-age film where Henry, Prince of Wales learns that sometimes you have to overcome your lethargy and pacifism for the greater good. And to swipe some land from the French as an added bonus.
Directed by David Michôd (Animal Kingdom) and co-written with Joel Edgerton (Boy Erased), The King has all the hallmarks of a meaty and dignified regal picture; only one that’s gone to Netflix, like its predecessor The Outlaw King. Timothée Chalamet (Call Me by Your Name, Lady Bird) plays the aforementioned Henry, who has shirked his responsibilities as a knight and is living a decadent lifestyle sleeping with the local peasants and getting drunk with his right-hand man, Falstaff (Edgerton again). When his father, Henry IV (Ben Mendelsohn) informs the regal vagrant that he will be handing the throne to his youngest son, Thomas (Dean-Charles Chapman), it looks like Henry’s life is set. Tragedy quickly befalls his family, however, and Henry is reluctantly plonked on the thrown with no real desire to rule or, more importantly, continue his father’s tarnished reputation as a warmonger.
Historians have already baulked at the idea of Henry V being portrayed as a surly youth who would rather be listening to loud minstrel music than pick up a sword. Henry was, by all accounts, a king who was quite happy to get the boot in every now and then and thought nothing of starving and executing people to get his point across. However, it’s best to approach The King the same way one would approach 10 Things I Hate About You; an adaptation of Shakespeare that acknowledges its source material while overlooking its flaws.
Historical inaccuracies aside, The King’s main issue is that for all its glorious pomp and circumstance, it’s not a wholly engaging experience and there are vast swathes of time where the temptation to look at your watch becomes too tempting. Chalamet simply does not convince as the reluctant king. His performance is weighted by down a clear decision to have him look off-screen moodily at any given a chance. The decision to nickname him ‘Hal’ (no, really) adds to the air that he’s your favourite non-threatening member of a boyband. And while this is admittedly Shakespeare, and a certain amount of pomposity is to be expected in line delivery, it takes the likes of Edgerton and Mendelsohn to show Chalamet that you don’t have to recite your lines as if you’re speaking to the cheap seats in the Globe.
Things pick up eventually when Henry – sorry, Hal – has his arm twisted to battle the French after they send an assassin to kill him. At the Battle of Agincourt, Michôd stirs up a sweaty and muddy affair that will leave you gasping for air. There is no pretension of gentlemanly conduct at play here, and it peaks when Falstaff is left to scream and punch his way out of a multitude of disorientated and riled up knights. It sees the film doing its best Game of Thrones impersonation, and it is quite simply brilliant.
However, it’s not just Michôd’s direction that enthrals at this time; there’s also the matter of The King’s sort-of antagonist, the Dauphin of Viennois played by Robert Pattison. With a ridiculously thick accent, Pattinson is the ace up the sleeve of the whole film. Stacked up against Hal’s new determination, the Dauphin is a rollicking good time who steers the film towards territory occupied by Monty Python and the Holy Grail; shooting out insults about Hal’s manhood and the English language itself (‘It’s simple… And Ugly’). Ideally, you’re not supposed to be barracking for the French in The King, but it’s hard not to every time Pattinson explodes onto the scene.
Strip the film of its holy trinity of Mendelsohn, Pattinson and Edgerton, and The King would be an overlong experience with little to stick around for. However, they, along with some genuinely gorgeous cinematography, make The King at least worth a pass, if not essential viewing.
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★★★☆☆
‘The King’ is now available to watch on Netflix – right HERE.