The King (2019) Netflix Movie Review

The King is a 2019 historical drama film based on several plays from William Shakespeare’s “Henriad”. It is directed by David Michôd and written by Michôd and Joel Edgerton. The film stars Timothée Chalamet as King Henry V, with Edgerton, Sean Harris, Lily-Rose Depp, Robert Pattinson, and Ben Mendelsohn.

It had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival on September 2, 2019, and was released on October 11, 2019 in selected theatres, before being put up for digital streaming on November 1, 2019, by Netflix.

Plot

Henry Prince of Wales (called “Hal” by his close friends) is the emotionally distant eldest and wastrel son of King Henry IV of England. Hal is uninterested by his father’s war policies, and spends his days drinking and jesting with companion John Falstaff in Eastcheap. His father, Henry IV summons Hal and informs him that Hal’s younger brother, Thomas, will inherit the throne instead of Hal. Thomas is sent to subdue Hotspur’s rebellion, but is upstaged by the arrival of Hal, who engages Hotspur in single combat. The sword fight descends into an armoured fist fight and Hal kills Hotspur with a dagger. Although this decides the battle without further conflict, Thomas complains that Hal has stolen all the glory. Not long after, Thomas dies in further battle in Wales.

Henry IV dies in his bed with Hal present, and Hal is crowned King Henry V. Hal is determined not to be like his father, opting for peace and conciliation despite his actions being seen as weakness. Meanwhile, the Dauphin of France sends a ball, an insulting and emasculating coronation gift to Hal; however, Hal chooses to see this as a positive reflection of his own youth.

A captured assassin is interrogated in French by Hal and claims to be sent by King Charles VI of France to assassinate Hal. The English nobles Cambridge and Grey are approached by French agents, hoping to induce them to the French cause. Following the advice of his Chief Justice, William Gascoigne, that a show of strength is necessary to unite England, and to prove his competency as king, Hal declares war on France and has Cambridge and Grey beheaded.

The English army set sail for France, with Hal at the forefront and Falstaff as his captain. After successfully taking Harfleur, they continue on the campaign, but are followed by the Dauphin, who repeatedly tries to provoke Hal. The English advance parties stumble upon a huge French army gathering to face them. Dorset advises Hal to retreat, due to the superiority of the French, but Falstaff proposes a false advance, luring the French to rush forward into the mud, where they will be weighed down by their heavy armor and horses. They will then be attacked by the English longbowmen and surrounded by a large flanking force hidden in the nearby woods.

Hal goes to the Dauphin and offers to fight in single combat to decide the outcome of the battle, but the Dauphin refuses. The Battle of Agincourt commences, with Hal in the thick of the fighting. The plan works and the outnumbered English army overpowers the French, though Falstaff is killed on the front lines. The Dauphin enters the fray to challenge Hal, but is humiliated and easily defeated.

Following the decisive victory, the English continue deeper into France. Hal reaches King Charles VI, who offers his surrender and the hand of his daughter Catherine. Hal returns to England with his new wife for the celebrations. Catherine challenges Hal’s reasons for invading France, and Hal realizes that the supposed French acts of aggression against England were faked by his chief Justice Gascoigne to goad Hal into war. Hal confronts Gascoigne and upon confirming his suspicions, proceeds to fatally stab him. He then asks Catherine to always speak the truth to him. Meanwhile outside the palace, people cheer “King Henry, King Henry” to celebrate his victory over the French.

My Personal Thoughts

A large-budget, medieval war movie that’s loosely based on Shakespeare’s “Henriad” and the historical events that inspired those plays, David Michôd’s “The King” is so eager to be a mud-and-guts epic about inherited violence and the corruption of power that it loses sight of the rich coming-of-age story at its core. It’s hard for a good man to be king, and it’s even harder for a king to be a good man — that idea only feels relevant to the modern world because it’s been true for every one of the last 600 years, and “The King” has nothing especially new or insightful to say on the subject.

What “The King” does have is Timothée Chalamet as a soft prince who would rather sleep in his bed than sit on the throne, and Robert Pattinson (if only for three scenes) as a hilariously sociopathic dauphin who looks like Klaus Kinski and talks like a castrated Pepé Le Pew. It has “Leave No Trace” star Thomasin McKenzie in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role as the Queen of Denmark, and a razor-sharp Lily-Rose Depp looking so much like Vanessa Paradis it’s hard to tell if she’s her daughter or her deepfake. And yet despite this stacked deck of generational talents, the film would rather turgidly rehash its most basic themes than allow these actors to work through them; it would rather make broad gestures toward the notion that personal agendas shape political history than offer an intimate take on how it must feel for someone to lose themselves in that process.

Michôd and co-writer Joel Edgerton take some necessary liberties with the source material in terms of both language and content — the changes to Falstaff, who Edgerton plays with bruised wistfulness and boisterous warmth, are particularly inspired — but the center doesn’t hold when they try to consolidate this multi-generational saga and splash it across a massive canvas at the same time. It’s as if they weren’t paying attention when fellow Australian Baz Luhrmann taught the world his greatest lesson: It’s hard to improve on the Bard, but if you’ve somehow managed to score Venice Beach, pre-“Titanic” Leonardo DiCaprio, and the rights to Radiohead’s “Talk Show Host,” then you should milk them for everything they’re worth.

The King

“The King”

A large-budget, medieval war movie that’s loosely based on Shakespeare’s “Henriad” and the historical events that inspired those plays, David Michôd’s “The King” is so eager to be a mud-and-guts epic about inherited violence and the corruption of power that it loses sight of the rich coming-of-age story at its core. It’s hard for a good man to be king, and it’s even harder for a king to be a good man — that idea only feels relevant to the modern world because it’s been true for every one of the last 600 years, and “The King” has nothing especially new or insightful to say on the subject.

What “The King” does have is Timothée Chalamet as a soft prince who would rather sleep in his bed than sit on the throne, and Robert Pattinson (if only for three scenes) as a hilariously sociopathic dauphin who looks like Klaus Kinski and talks like a castrated Pepé Le Pew. It has “Leave No Trace” star Thomasin McKenzie in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role as the Queen of Denmark, and a razor-sharp Lily-Rose Depp looking so much like Vanessa Paradis it’s hard to tell if she’s her daughter or her deepfake. And yet despite this stacked deck of generational talents, the film would rather turgidly rehash its most basic themes than allow these actors to work through them; it would rather make broad gestures toward the notion that personal agendas shape political history than offer an intimate take on how it must feel for someone to lose themselves in that process.

Michôd and co-writer Joel Edgerton take some necessary liberties with the source material in terms of both language and content — the changes to Falstaff, who Edgerton plays with bruised wistfulness and boisterous warmth, are particularly inspired — but the center doesn’t hold when they try to consolidate this multi-generational saga and splash it across a massive canvas at the same time. It’s as if they weren’t paying attention when fellow Australian Baz Luhrmann taught the world his greatest lesson: It’s hard to improve on the Bard, but if you’ve somehow managed to score Venice Beach, pre-“Titanic” Leonardo DiCaprio, and the rights to Radiohead’s “Talk Show Host,” then you should milk them for everything they’re worth.

Michôd (whose potential was announced with “Animal Kingdom,” realized with “The Rover,” and dulled with early Netflix disappointment “War Machine”) has a natural flair for dank grandeur, and that talent is on full display in a gruesome opening shot that introduces us to the kill-or-be-killed world of “The King.” The year is 1413, and King Henry IV (a stringy Ben Mendelsohn, doing his thing) is an old man subsumed by malice and mistrust. His bloodlust has splintered England into civil war, a state that Michôd sells with an introductory image of the treasonous Henry “Hotspur” Percy (Tom Glynn-Carney) walking through a sea of fresh bodies.

It’s an ugly world that a pretty boy like Hal (Chalamet) wants nothing to do with. A pacifist with the soul of a poet and the body of a Tumblr idol, Hal would sooner get plastered in dingy Eastcheap pubs with his friend and bodyguard Falstaff than sit in court and foment violence with his father. He doesn’t even want to be King after Henry IV dies; he’s perfectly happy letting that burden go to his vain younger brother, Thomas (Dean-Charles Chapman, who practiced being ill-suited to rule when he played Tommen in “Game of Thrones”).

The film’s best scene illustrates the differences between these siblings, as Hal — hoping to spare Thomas from needless slaughter — shows up to duel Hotspur in his place. The resulting throwdown isn’t only one of the most realistic fights that has ever been staged between two men in massive suits of armor (it’s all huffing and puffing and tackling each other), it’s also an uncommonly lucid expression of Hal’s inner conflict. He isn’t interested in power, only in peace. Brave but naïve, he doesn’t seem to appreciate the irony of having to brutally murder someone in order to prevent bloodshed; he thinks this will be the only time. Chalamet never acts that false confidence. The strength of his performance is in how he lets the uncertainty bubble through him like indigestion, headstrong and shaking from the neck down — he’s never looked younger than he does in this movie.

The King – Robert Pattinson – Photo Credit: Netflix

When Hal is crowned Henry V at the end of the first act — and given a terrible pageboy haircut that royal stylists clearly modeled on a young Don Draper — “The King” begins to teeter on the edge of a knife: You have to believe that Henry is competent but vulnerable; that he’s his own man, but susceptible to the influence of all the other men around him (most of all royal advisor William Gascoigne, played by a hunched Sean Harris). The loyal Falstaff insists that “A king has no friends; a king only has followers and foes,” but Hal is too young to hear him clearly. To paraphrase a poet by the name of Britney Spears, he’s not a boy, not yet a leader. But Michôd doesn’t seem much interested in exploring the difference. Within seconds of assuming the throne, Hal picks up where his father left off, chopping off heads and being provoked into conquering the whole of Christendom. Does absolute power corrupt? Absolutely. But it usually doesn’t happen overnight.

By the time Hal leads the English army into France — embarking on a long slog that’s depicted with all the sweep of an afternoon stroll — he’s already lost sight of what he’s fighting for, and so have we. Hal is developmentally stunted for much of the film’s tired second act, as all of the emotional texture is shifted onto Falstaff’s shoulders; the eponymous sovereign is all but reduced to a witness in his own story, as all of the nuanced adolescent frustration that ripples across Chalamet’s face wells up with nowhere to go. There are any number of scenes in dingy tents where it’s clear that other people are pulling the strings, but “The King” is so happy to gawk at the simple mechanics of power that it seems impossible Hal wouldn’t feel how he’s being manipulated.

Nicholas Britell’s stirring but unremarkable score — best when it’s jangly or playing with strings — is left to drag the story along, while Pattinson’s glorified cameo (and glorious comic relief) steals the movie from the clutches of tedium. Michôd, commanding a production that may have been too large and unwieldy for him to steer with his usual precision, displays little of the demented genius that made “The Rover” so much fun, and little of the steely patience that made “Animal Kingdom” so agonizingly tense. The Battle of Agincourt promises to be a perfect venue for him to show off his chops, but it ends up feeling like a miniature model of the Battle of the Bastards from “Game of Thrones.”

Michôd excels when he gets low to the ground, following the ever-eager Chalamet through an absolute shitstorm of sopping-wet Earth as Hal crawls toward his father’s dream. Few actors seem to want it worse than Chalamet, and the power of “The King” radiates from that powerful desire to go to hell and back in order to get the job done. There’s no doubt that he’s more self-aware than the character he plays here, who’s mercifully confronted by his own guilelessness in a shaky third act that’s capsized by a wallop of Shakespearean flair. “The King” will be no one’s crowning achievement, but it’s safe to assume that Chalamet’s rule has just begun.

I will rate this movie 7.5/10.

Directed byDavid Michôd
Produced by David Michôd Joel Edgerton Dede Gardner Jeremy Kleiner Brad Pitt Liz Watts
Written by David Michôd Joel Edgerton
Based onHenry IV, Part 1,
Henry IV, Part 2
and Henry V
by William Shakespeare
Starring Timothée Chalamet Joel Edgerton Sean Harris Lily-Rose Depp Robert Pattinson Ben Mendelsohn
Music byNicholas Britell
CinematographyAdam Arkapaw
Edited byPeter Sciberras
Production
companies
Plan B Entertainment Netflix Blue-Tongue Films Porchlight Films
Distributed byNetflix
Release date September 2, 2019 (Venice) October 11, 2019 (United States) November 1, 2019 (Streaming)
Running time140 minutes
Country Australia United States
LanguageEnglish
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