‘The King’ review: Timothée Chalamet is all charisma in rousing drama on Henry V

‘The King’: Steven Elder, Timothée Chalamet, Sean Harris

‘The King’: Steven Elder, Timothée Chalamet, Sean Harris   | Photo Credit: Netflix

The excellent cast and source material ensure David Michôd’s historical war movie on Netflix makes for an engaging watch

Though technology is now our “Muse of fire” and has made us lazy viewers, David Michôd’s The King still makes for gripping viewing — could there be a better writer than Shakespeare to paraphrase Chandler Bing? If you go by the synopsis you could be forgiven for thinking The King is the story of a callow, carousing young prince, Hal, who gets a haircut and a job to become Henry V, Britain’s successful warrior king.

While history begs to differ on Henry’s profligacy, (he couldn’t have been involved military campaigns, and politics as a teenager if he was shallow Hal) Shakespeare’s Henry with dramatic transformation from Henry IV to Henry V, is powerful and popular.

The King starts with an ailing Henry IV telling Hal, his younger brother, Thomas, is going to be his heir and the future king of England. Hal steals Thomas’ thunder by defeating Hotspur in single combat and thus averting a bloody battle. Thomas dies in a campaign against Wales and Hal becomes king upon his father’s death.

While preferring peace to war, Henry goes to war with France and though badly outnumbered, defeats France in the Battle of Agincourt. The French king surrenders and offers his daughter Catharine in marriage to Henry, astutely commenting on how world events are often spurred by family.

The King
  • Director: David Michôd
  • Cast: Timothée Chalamet, Joel Edgerton, Sean Harris, Lily-Rose Depp, Robert Pattinson, Ben Mendelsohn
  • Story line: Based on Shakespeare’s Henry V, the historical drama tells the story of the English monarch’s successful French campaign
  • Run time: 140 minutes

Shakespeare’s chorus exhorts the audience to imagine the battle scenes so that Henry would appear like Mars, the god of war. Even with CGI doing the imagining for us, Timothée Chalamet makes for a fine Henry, scars and all (from being shot in the face at the battle of Shrewsbury at the age of 16) who history describes as being tall, slim, clean-shaven, with dark hair and eyes that “flashed from the mildness of a dove’s to the brilliance of a lion’s.”

Joel Edgerton, who wrote The King with Michôd plays Henry’s friend, John Falstaff. The character appears in Shakespeare’s Henry VI Part 1 and 2 as comic relief and the one leading Hal down the crooked path, and does not appear on stage in Henry V — he is ill in one scene and dead in the next; his eulogy is the centrepiece of Act 2, Scene 3.

The King takes a different path with Falstaff being a shrewd military mind and suggesting the way to defeat the French by getting them bogged in the mud and slush. He leads the charge and dies bravely on the battlefield.

Ben Mendelsohn plays Henry IV, Sean Harris (Solomon Lane from Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation and Mission: Impossible – Fallout) is the duplicitous William Gascoigne and Lily-Rose Depp is Catharine. Robert Pattinson is a revelation as the slightly deranged, vindictive Dauphin.

Henry V encouraged the use of English in government. In The King despite the Dauphin calling it an “ugly language”, the music of English is celebrated — it is nice to hear evocative words such as “timorous slither” on film.

There was no shortage of drama in Henry V’s short life (he died at the age of 35) and reign of nine years (1413 to his death in 1422). There is an illustrious history of his portrayal on screen from Laurence Olivier’s directorial debut in 1944 to Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V in 1989, which had Robbie “Hagrid” Coltrane as Falstaff and Christian Bale — even Batman begins as a luggage boy. Incidentally it was after Olivier’s stirring rendition of Henry V’s St Crispin’s Day speech on radio to inspire soldiers during World War II that the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, asked him to make a film based on the play.

The King, though it loses its way in some places and does not follow up on some set ups (what of Hal and Thomas’ sibling rivalry?), is still rousing drama thanks to the excellent cast and source material.

The King streams on Netflix

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Printable version | Jul 3, 2020 4:19:27 PM |

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