As one of English history’s most beloved and glorious monarchs, Henry V has been portrayed many times throughout history – most notably in the historical play by William Shakespeare. So what could a new Netflix film hope to offer in a new blockbuster take on the figure and his victory at Agincourt?
In The King , hedonistic and rebellious Prince Hal ( Timothee Chalamet ) is not the choice of his divisive father King Henry IV ( Ben Mendelsohn ) to succeed the throne of England. Yet, as rebellions rise up and dangers threaten the crown, Hal is forced to step up and eventually succeed as a young new English king.
However, heavy is the head that wears the crown as Henry is beset by threats both domestic and foreign – namely from France, led in battle by the arrogant heir to the French throne, the Dauphin ( Robert Pattinson ).
How will Henry triumph and seize back his dynasty’s reputation and lands in France?
Director David Michod finds a grim, gritty, and harsh take on the medieval conflict, with a beige and hushed colour pallet to deliver a sense of the uncompromising practicabilities of warfare in such a merciless era.
The battle sequences feel especially modern, with the one-to-one duels feeling tense and awkward, while the climactic Battle of Agincourt is purposefully messy, immersive, and unrelenting; not unlike the direction of Game of Thrones classic episode Battle of the Bastards.
The scale of the epic historical clash is felt in the wide vistas and intense score but is grounded with the natural but full-blooded turns of its ensemble cast.
Currently Hollywood’s favourite heartthrob, Timothee Chalamet has already proven his acting chops with roles in Call Me By Your Name and Lady Bird, but to play one of the great historical and dramatic heroes are no mean feat for any actor but he does succeed here.
Delivering the playful but defiant Prince Hal before turning into a more dedicated and stern ruler, Chalamet often speaks in a hushed tone while offering a commendable English accent. The character’s arc – as told by William Shakespeare – is already legendary, yet the moral dilemmas that Henry faces feel especially powerful when commanded with Chalamet's mature turn.
The young actor is ably supported by a talented supporting cast, most notably the pragmatic Lord Chancellor played by a shifty Sean Harris , and screenwriter Joel Edgerton as Shakespearean icon Falstaff, Hal's old drinking buddy and war veteran.
Much has been made of Robert Pattinson's French accent in the role of the capricious Dauphin, but while exaggerated it is an enjoyably campy villainous turn for the actor, and one that stands out from the rest of the cast – for better or worse.
Ben Mendelsohn is underused as Hal's ailing father, meaning the emotional core of their fragile relationship never really hits home, but the small and underdeveloped relationship between Hal and prospective bride Catherine of Valois is beautifully done – namely due to a brittle but magnetic turn from Lily-Rose Depp, whose character provides no easy escapes for Hal, giving a less passive air to one of England's lesser known Queen Consorts.
Taking some liberties with history and others with Shakespeare's take on the famous king, The King feels thoroughly modern and not just in the script which mostly dispenses with the Bard's adored language.
The chief downfall of the film is probably that it attempts to cover and develop too many aspects of Henry's life, meaning some can feel like they don't get the time deserved, meaning a longer director's cut akin to some of Ridley Scott's epics wouldn't go amiss.
Overall, however, Netflix can rest easy knowing they have delivered a tense, well-acted, and visually arresting historical blockbuster with The King.
The King tries to tackle too much in its run time, but a host of great performances and atmospheric handling of warfare and backstabbing makes this a historical epic hit for Netflix.
The King is being shown as part of the BFI London Film Festival 2019 and is released in UK cinemas on October 11, 2019. It will be released on Netflix on November 1, 2019.
How will you be watching The King? Let us know in the comments below.
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