In this royal coming-of-age tale, young Hal (Timotheé Chalamet) is a prince of England who has turned his back on his royal obligations. Yet the death of his father sees him reluctantly thrust upon the throne and its weighty responsibilities. As the newly-crowned King Henry, he faces the challenges of a fractured and worn-down England left by the reign of his unpopular, warmongering predecessor. This somber tale is based on the real-life of the actual King Henry V, but borrows more heavily from Shakespeare’s series of plays known as “Henrioth”. It details how a careless, boozing and the womanizing prince becomes one of the most celebrated warrior kings in England’s history.
Hollywood’s rising star, 23-year-old Timotheé Chalamet, is the obvious main attraction of the movie. He delivers a brooding performance that conveys the contemplative, yet uncertain nature of a young king who must constantly assess who to trust and what actions to take.
His character undergoes an engaging and convincing transformation from a naive, uninterested prince to a mature and accomplished ruler. This role proves to be another sound choice in what promises to be a remarkable career.
The supporting cast is equally strong. Joel Edgerton, who also co-wrote the screenplay, plays a washed-up knight who is Hal’s closest friend and right-hand man. He has great chemistry with Chalamet and brings a certain warmth that makes theirs the most compelling relationship of the story. His character is boisterous and loud, providing the few, much-needed moments of levity to the film.
Speaking of levity, the biggest surprise without a doubt is Robert Pattison and his amusing portrayal of the Dauphin of France. The character is psychopathic to a degree of hilarity and steals every scene he is in. His performance might come across as overly exaggerated though, as does the British actor’s sometimes questionable French accent. He seems to walk a fine line between intriguing comic relief and becoming a mockery. Still, his flamboyant presence brings a refreshing energy to the film. His personality lies in direct contrast to Chalamet’s grim mood and is undoubtedly enthralling.
The immense, choreographed battle-scenes are another main highlight of the film. The large Battle of Agincourt sequence at the end is especially riveting. Although, any Game of Thrones fans out there might be taken aback by this as it appears to emulate the famous ‘Battle of the Bastards’ in season 6. Despite the obvious influence, it is executed very well and truly captures the chaos and uncertainty of a battle where more people were killed from drowning in mud than by the sword. Director David Michôd chooses to present this harsh, realistic side to medieval warfare that does away with the glamour and style. He brings us uncomfortably close to the brutal violence which is rightfully unnerving and gruesome.
The cinematography is understatedly gorgeous. Adam Arkapaw, perhaps best known for 2015’s Macbeth and the hauntingly beautiful season one of True Detective, does an exceptional job. Wide, expansive shots that show the grandeur of battles and landscapes are contrasted by close intimate shots that study the actor’s fine expressions. The colour pallet is quite dim, to match the somber mood. His use of light and shadows, in particular, is intriguing. The visuals are overall greatly appealing and exceed most historical dramas.
The final twist in the story is very meaningful, adding a powerful layer of political intrigue. Young Henry uncovers the truth that his entire French conquest was based on falsehood – as the assassination attempt was manipulated by his own courtiers. This harsh reality check immediately taints the magnificence of his grand military success. For all of his peaceful aims, he had fallen prey to the greedy ambition of his corrupt advisors. It shows his deep vulnerability as a young ruler, unwittingly becoming a political pawn in spite of his strong will and noble intentions. Nevertheless, this personal contamination of the victory is juxtaposed with the popular acclamation he received at the time. Through this famous conquest, misguided as it was, Henry was able to win the admiration and support of his people and nobility – cementing his legacy.
Interestingly, the film chooses to end at this point, at the height of Henry’s glory following his victory. You may be led to believe that this marks the historic start of a glorious reign. Yet, just a mere three years following the events of the film, King Henry V would die quite anticlimactically from dysentery. Thus, this film chronicles not the complete biography of the man, but rather the character and myth of this fabled king of England.
The King is ultimately a compelling, naturalistic period drama. Admittedly, the pacing is quite slow and may be too drawn out for some – particularly during the second act. Overall though, it is definitely worth a watch as it is shot beautifully and carried by strong performances all-round.
You can catch the film on Netflix.