REVIEW: “The King” (2019)

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It would be really hard for David Michôd’s “The King” to be misconstrued as a thorough treatment of William Shakespeare’s “Henriad”. Some of the earliest scenes tell us otherwise. Instead his new film is a much more concentrated adaptation that puts its focus primarily on young Henry V and his rise from dissolute prince to the reluctant King of England.

“The King” is more than a condensed version of the Bard’s renowned series of plays. It’s still a medieval yarn about early 15th century power and the men who wield it. But it’s a uniquely contemporary retelling that takes plenty of liberties while sporting a slyly modern philosophical edge. It marks the third feature film collaboration between Michôd (director and co-writer) and fellow Aussie Joel Edgerton (co-writer and supporting actor).

Whether it’s earned or not, Timothée Chalamet has been the hottest thing in Hollywood since, I don’t know, Jennifer Lawrence. And much like her, he is immensely talented and has been showered with an almost unfair level of adulation. Here he shines, first as young Prince Hal, the rebellious son of the ailing King Henry IV (the always good Ben Mendelsohn). Hal is content with swilling ale with his boozy friend and mentor Falstaff (Edgerton), once a proficient knight on the battlefield but now the Prince’s portly protector and confidante.

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Hal’s defiance prompts his father to name his more devoted and by-the-royal-book son Thomas (Dean-Charles Chapman) as the heir to his throne. There’s an interesting family dynamic here, but one of the few weaknesses of Michôd and Edgerton’s script is in how little they explore it. Instead we breeze through the demise of the petulant and overly-ambitious Thomas, their father’s inevitable death, and Prince Hal’s coronation as King of England.

Hal, now King Henry V, is a pacifist at heart and determined not to follow in the footsteps of his warmongering father. But he quickly realizes the urgings towards war aren’t easy to quell especially when so many around him seem to want it. And finding a trustworthy voice among the politicians and clergy proves to be difficult. Re-enter Falstaff who is brought in out of the rabble and into the King’s court as a military adviser. Needless to say, his presence irks many of those already in the King’s ear.

It’s here that Chalamet’s performance really grabs your attention. With maturity and gravitas, he brings a deep, troubled solemnity to his character. At the same time his internalized portrayal shrewdly conveys the deep psychological conflict of a young king aspiring for peace while burdened under his father’s shadow. Chalamet’s chemistry with his co-stars is a real strength particularly Edgerton who gives us a much different take on Falstaff.

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We also get a stellar supporting turn from Sean Harris who plays the hissing Chief Justice William Gascoigne. Lily-Rose Depp gets a small but meaty moment playing Catherine of Valois. Thomasin McKenzie briefly but effectively offers some gentle wisdom as Hal’s sister and the Queen and Denmark. But the real scene-stealer (and sure to be off-putting for some) could be Robert Pattinson as the Dauphin, the pompous heir to the French crown and perpetual thorn in Henry’s side. Pattinson swans around with a healthy dose of camp and enough absurdity to lighten up the otherwise dark and gloomy proceedings.

Michôd and cinematographer Adam Arkapaw bathe the first half of their film in the washed out blues and grays often seen with these types of period pieces. Yet despite its familiarity, the color palette fits and works well within the early setting. But the visuals truly pop once Hal and his army leave the dark castle for the shores of France. Specifically, it’s the fierce, mud-splattered Battle of Agincourt that stands out the most. It’s exquisitely shot from its tense buildup to the brutal, claustrophobic hand-to-hand combat.

“The King” does a good job reinventing Shakespeare’s characters and using them to offer up a meaningful critique of imperialism and the politics of war. It’s also a compelling character study of a son who wants no part of his father’s royal legacy but struggles to forge his own path as king. Shakespeare purists are sure to grit their teeth at Michôd’s dramatic license and willingness to take the popular story in new directions. But I loved the gritty fresh take and the strong, sturdy performances that drives the film from start to finish.

VERDICT – 4.5 STARS

4-5-stars

13 thoughts on “REVIEW: “The King” (2019)

  1. As a lover of history ,this was a pleasant surprise . It was well acted with both the leads and supporting cast all engaging. Chalamet’s performance was very good . He brought a sense of conflict and intensity that was very compelling. His future looks to be very bright indeed. Plus the story itself was concise and you were able to follow with its intrigue and twists even if you weren’t familiar with this tale from the bard or history . The battles gritty and very realistic as well . Would love to see Netflix do more along these lines . A solid 9 out of 10 for me .

    • It really surprised me. I didn’t quite know what to expect. At first I thought it was going to be pretty shallow, but I really liked how they showed how his path was threatening to become just like his father’s. And you can see that conflict eating away at him as the movie moves forward. Love it.

  2. I thought this was pretty basic but Chalamet is amazing here. Pattison is a bit too goofy for how serious everything else was, but I got a good laugh from it.

    • Pattinson was goofy and I kinda loved him because of it. He’s such a jolt. I too thought it felt basic for a bit. But then watching the effect everything was having on Hal turned the whole thing into a fascinating character study. I ended up really loving it (more than I ever expected to).

  3. I am fascinated by this just to see what Timothee Chalamet could do with this role and how the film holds up in comparison to Chimes at Midnight by Orson Welles which I think is one of Welles’ great films.

    • I would recommend not going in with any comparisons in mind. Michod and Edgerton give a daringly fresh take on the story. It’s really its own thing which I really liked.

    • I would be interested to read your thoughts. It’s not action-heavy which I found to be a plus. And the performances are really, really good. Good grab for Netflix.

  4. YES!!! So glad you liked this as much as me. I think Michod and Edgerton are a FORCE when they work together. While unfortunately Michod struggled without Joel, at least for War Machine from a few years, which seemingly had -no- PR work and didn’t even play down here.

    Gladly, he has redeemed himself. Great review, I’m knocking mine up now as we speak, tho I feel compelled to watch it again.

    I like that you mention the camerawork, I loved that too. And while it wasn’t super original, I enjoyed the soundtrack too.

    As always, awesome review mate!!

    • I really went for it. More than I expected to. I agree, Michod and Edgerton have a really good synergism. Funny you mention War Machine. That’s one I still haven’t seen.

      • Yeah War Machine just flew under that radar, crazy after The Rover being so good (and having duel leads that are big names).

        I need to watch this again to really appreciate it, especially Timothy and ESPECIALLY Joel’s performances. I thought Joel was supreme, I like that he often writes himself into his movies as always a supporting character. He was amazing in this, and so good in Boy Erased I didn’t even recognise him. Not to mention The Gift, he had a bigger role but goddamn he played it well. He is easily my favourite Aussie export, Jennifer Kent though is a close second

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