In keeping with the surge of medieval dramas – popularized by Game of Thrones – Netflix has followed its 2018 release Outlaw King with another Braveheart-esque period movie: The King. Directed by David Michŏd, the condensed adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henriad (1595-99) sheds light on the lesser-known history of King Henry V of England during the early 15th century.
Timothée Chalamet stars as the conflicted young king, delivering a strong performance alongside Joel Edgerton and Robert Pattinson. When the kingdom falls unexpectedly into the hands of Henry (or ‘Hal’), the king must negotiate his desire for peace with expectations to defeat England’s enemies.
Hal begins the film as a drunken disappointment, harbouring little interest in the life of royalty. But when circumstances shift, he has no choice but to take the role of King seriously. Hal’s character development is executed subtly but with skill – and I don’t just mean with Peaky Blinders haircut and new clothes. Hal’s principles and motives evolve (for better or for worse) in accordance with his experiences, emphasizing the struggles that come with being leadership.
Michŏd questions the justification of war – complicating the idea of good and evil to engage his viewers. Although a little flat at times, The King is sympathetic and thought-provoking. We feel the strain of power along with the characters; Michŏd never concealing Hal’s flaws in an effort for heroic perfection.
Not only does Michŏd offer a compelling narrative and stunning cinematography, he also prevents The King from being bogged down in historical jargon. By neutralizing the ye-olde dialect, viewers are able to engross themselves in the drama; navigating their way around the complex betrayals and conflicts that naturally accompany period movies. But aside from the violence and battle scenes, what’s most compelling about The King is the characters. Most notably, Hal himself and the relationships around him.
The only flatness that comes with The King is perhaps its attempt to exaggerate the grandeur of its historical protagonist. Henry V has a captivating story to tell, but his influence within British history is not quite on par with the greatness Michŏd grapples to exhibit. The glossy cinematography is by far a winning factor of Michŏd’s movie, framing the scenic landscapes with control and symbology. However, there are one too many cliché methods used to show a feudal monarchy in conflict (although the classic Braveheart speech did have some applaudable flair).
The King could be experienced just as well at the big-screen as it would at home; balancing its epic historical proportions with intimacy and charm. The somewhat unexpected cast (including a cameo from Lily-Rose Depp) are exceptional – just pretend The Dauphin isn’t Pattinson faking a questionable French accent. The King may not be an Oscar-worthy piece of Shakespearean cinema, but it’s still an honest piece of storytelling that doesn’t try to glamorize itself as anything bigger.
Drama, History | Australia, 2019 | 15 | 1st November 2019 | Netflix | Dir.David Michod | Timothée Chalamet, Joel Edgerton, Sean Harris, Ben Mendelsohn, Robert Pattinson,Lily-Rose Depp.