THE KING (Film Review)
‘All men are born to die, we know it. We carry it with us always. If your day be today, so be it. Mine will be tomorrow. Or mine today, and yours tomorrow, it matters not. What matters is that you know in your hearts, that today you are that kingdom united. You are England.’
The King is a 2019 Netflix film, written by Joel Edgerton and David Michod. This is a loose adaptation of a series of plays by William Shakespeare collectively called The Henriad. The film chronicles the early years of Prince Hal’s ascension to the throne after the passing of his father. Hal is a reluctant prince, one who never desired to be seated on the throne, but now faced with that reality, he must battle with palace politics, and the disputes his father left in his wake.
Firstly, out of the Henriad plays, I must admit the only one I’ve read is Henry V, and that being many years ago. Therefore my review of this film will be less about the authenticity of the adaptation, and more focused on my opinions of the film itself. When I first heard about The King, I seriously had my doubts, particularly because I was sceptical of the casting choices. Timothee Chalamet was a fairly unknown actor to me, and I also questioned Robert Pattinson’s role as The Dauphin, a deranged French Prince. However, I need not have feared, because from beginning to end The King showed itself to be an excellent film with some breathtaking performances.
I must say that this is not a fast-paced film; it’s 2 hours and 20 minutes long, and it takes well over an hour for the plot to actually move forward. However, what we do get is some insightful characterisation. The film begins with the portrayal of Hal being a wayward son, one that is more accustomed to drinking and womanising with his trusted friend, Falstaff, than being a respectable prince. It is made clear that Hal doesn’t see eye to eye with his father, and that he openly disdains King Henry’s various feuds. Where his father is fierce and strives to conquer all, Hal is compassionate and aspires for peace. So when the role of being a king is thrust upon him, we see the burden of that responsibility begin to shape his character, and we see his struggle of still trying to maintain a semblance of his old values. Timothee Chalamet gives us a stellar performance here, and he clearly shines as an actor set to become an absolute star! I cannot wait to see his performance in the upcoming adaptation of Dune. Another actor worthy of note was also Robert Pattinson, who managed to came across as a believable mad prince, hungry for war.
I think what most stole the show for me in The King was the outstanding dialogue and ultra realistic battle scenes. One aspect of Shakespeare’s Henry V play that I clearly remember was that Henry delivered many eloquent soliloquies, and I think this became quite iconic of his character. So whilst many other aspects of the adaptation may or may not have been altered, I was pleased to see this adaptation followed suit and also gave Hal many sophisticated speeches too, which Chalamet delivered beautifully. I particularly enjoyed his debates with his war council, his closeness with Falstaff, and his speech just before his army engaged in battle.
This brings me to the battle sequence itself; the battle of Agincourt. I have seen criticism that this battle was not depicted with historical accuracy, but again I won’t judge it by that as I’m not well informed on the details of the actual battle. What I will say though is that the director, David Michod, used vivid cinematography to show the chaotic and gritty reality of warfare. There was no artful swordplay here; there were soldiers punching, crushing, blindly stabbing, rolling in the mud, and using any means necessary to kill, to avoid being killed. Bloodshed, confusion, fear, weariness, we got to glimpse it all. Then in the aftermath, we got to see the inevitable poignancy of loss, of grief, of regret. It was truly one of my most favourite parts.
So to sum up, if you’re looking for a slow burn film, one that will captivate, shock and leave you in awe, then I’d highly recommend delving back into medieval England and watching The King.