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| 30 January 2020 | Reply

Written by Joel Edgerton, David Michôd
Directed by David Michôd
Starring Timothée Chalamet, Ben Mendelsohn, Joel Edgerton, Sean Harris, Robert Pattinson
Reviewed by Shane Pinnegar

Set in the early fifteenth century, The King draws from a combination of accepted history, Billy Shakespeare’s plays, and modern dramatic licence to concoct a fascinating – though not unflawed – look at the ascension of King Henry V to the throne of England.

It must be said from the outset that this is no documentary, or even a docudrama – but for the sake of brevity, we’ll save the debate over modern films rewriting history for another time and focus instead on the film itself as a piece of entertainment. Because, Netflix commissioned, this is about entertainment, and entertaining it certainly is.

When the film opens, young Hal (Timothée Chalamet) is a drunken wastrel of considerable nihilism. Estranged from his father King Henry IV (a slimy, and literally pox-ridden Ben Mendelsohn), consumed by self-loathing at the pointlessness of his existence, he has only his older friend, former warrior Sir John Falstaff (a beefy and affable Joel Edgerton), to look after him.

Falstaff is, of course, a character from four of Shakespeare’s plays rather than an actual historical figure, and in those plays he is often pictured as drunken, comic figure. It’s true that he provides some light comic relief here as well, but Edgerton (as writer and actor) cleverly observes the professional soldier past his glory days who only plays up when not engaged in his chosen line of work brilliantly. His weathered insouciance and dry, wry observations make The King accessible for the audience.

Chalamet is wonderful as the tormented, brooding Henry V, who in trying to put his sordid past behind him places too much trust in his father’s advisors, and abandons old mate Falstaff. He soon realises that anyone at such lofty heights needs people they can trust to help navigate the machinations and connivances of the royal court, and he calls on his previously scorned former friend.

The King is an epic in every sense of the word. It’s probably a bit long and a bit slow for some to watch in one sitting – but that would be a failure on their part, as the costumes and sets are extraordinary, and best seen on the big screen for maximum appreciation.

So, too, the acting is enthralling throughout, with one notable exception. Director and co-writer David Michôd has stated that he wanted Robert Pattinson as the French Dauphine, Henry’s main antagonist, “to go nuts with it. His whole purpose is to be a jerk and to just torment Hal. So I kind of needed him to be a larger-than-life jerk. He needed to be ridiculous.” Ridiculous he is, but not as Michôd intended. Pattinson’s Monty Python-esque accent grates so abrasively that it almost makes a mockery of the rest of the film.

Despite this blip on an otherwise wonderful film’s radar, Chalamet completely embodies the journey of young Hal as he goes from drunken bum to out-of-depth monarch, and ultimately becomes a strong and noble leader of a nation with a stirring victory against the French at the Battle of Agincourt.

Historically inaccurate (on some levels) The King may be, but it is a damn fine film, and it’s testament to its creative team that the political manoeuvring amongst the court has so much relevance in today’s world of fake news and wars for approval and profit.

Category: Movie & Theatre Reviews

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