A slick historical epic and an incredible cast that just doesn’t quite add up to more than the sum of its parts.
IMDB Synopsis: Hal, wayward prince and heir to the English throne, is crowned King Henry V after his tyrannical father dies. Now the young king must navigate palace politics, the war his father left behind, and the emotional strings of his past life.
The King—Netflix’s latest big budget action-drama film—is the streaming services latest attempt at a prestigious cinematic endeavor, packaged for mainstream audiences. Loosely based off of parts of Shakespeare’s tetralogy Henriad, it’s less of a historical epic, and more of a vehicle looking to cement lead Timothée Chalamet as a serious, dramatic lead. A burdened young monarch who exudes gravitas and charisma, and weighs heavy the crown. But despite gorgeous production design, a wonderful supporting ensemble, and thrilling action set pieces, The King is a little too self-serious and strips Chalamet of his real-world charisma and replaces it with the serious weight of the Hundred Years’ War. This isn’t to say that The King is bad. Far from it. It just isn’t pitch perfect.
Separated into three distinct acts, The King succeeds where many historical films fail: It’s easy to follow. One need not be familiar with Henry IV or V, the Dauphin of France, or the Hundred Years’ Wars. All you need to know is young Hal inherits the crown and tries to chart his own course as a just ruler. However, due to political machinations he cannot control, he ends up at war with France, leading his men in battle.
Upon opening, it’s quickly established that the ailing King Henry IV (the always great Ben Mendelsohn) has been preoccupied in civil strife with the Scots and the Welsh, while his son Hal (Timothée Chalamet) has spent his days drinking and whoring. And because of that, King Henry will not pass his crown to Hal, but rather his younger brother Thomas (Dean-Charles Chapman), who illustrates the saying, “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,” to a T.
The second act begins after Henry IV succumbs to illness and Thomas is killed in battle trying to prove his kingliness (off screen). Newly crowned King Henry V, the movie beats into the audience that he’s not his father. He wants a prosperous peacetime era. His father’s squabbles with Wales and obsession with France died along with him. But as different of a reign Henry V would like, war is inevitable. Due to political string-pulling by his adviser William Chief Justice (a pitch perfect Sean Harris), England must march on France and Henry must meet the army led by the Dauphin (a bonkers Robert Pattinson).
The third and final act focuses on young Henry’s invasion of France, and ultimately the Battle of Agincourt. It’s not a spoiler to say that the English won the battle (in stunning fashion, no less). There’s not a lot to say except that the battle sequences are very well done, and Chalamet acquits himself well during these sequences. By film’s end, more palace intrigue is revealed and our young ideologue of a king realizes that nothing really changes and that even a king is ultimately a pawn (although Timothée is still the king of meme-worthy moments). Not exactly groundbreaking dramatic territory, but it doesn’t need to be for The King to be successful.
Highlights: The battle sequences are extremely well shot and choreographed; intimate and steeped in realism. Thomasin McKenzie as Princess Philippa is a highlight (as always) even though she’s criminally underused. The clips of Timothée that will become gifs and memes.
MVP: Robert Pattinson as The Dauphin of France really gives a wild, energetic performance. He is the charismatic lead that King Henry V should be. And his accent is a choice.
Should you see it: Jury is still out on if Chalamet can be a dramatic lead in an epic, but it’s slick and has a great supporting cast. 7/10.
Director: David Michôd
Studio: Netflix // Original release date: November 1, 2019