This gorgeous Netflix film, THE KING, directed by David Michôd stars Timothée Chalamet as King Henry V. Yes, it is a period piece --- oh, shut up and deal with it!
Hal (Chalamet) is the ne’er-do-well son of King Henry IV (Ben Mendelsohn). He prefers to spend his time drinking with his pal, John Falstaff (Joel Edgerton) and carousing with women. When his younger brother, Thomas of Lancaster (Dean-Charles Chapman), who King Henry IV chooses to succeed him, is killed in battle, Hal must ascend the throne, much to his chagrin.
Eschewing combat of any kind, Hal initially rejects entering into conflict with France, even though the son of France’s King Charles, The Dauphin (Robert Pattinson), has sent a single tennis ball for Hal’s coronation gift, as an insult. When an assassin arrives explaining he was sent by King Charles himself to kill Hal, only then does he make the decision to invade and conquer France.
THE KING succeeds marvelously due to the performance of Chalamet. All the beauty and angst he brought to his portrayal of Elio in CALL ME BY YOUR NAME (2017) is on full display here, with a maturity well beyond his years. It’s an Oscar-worthy performance from one of the finest young actors of his generation.
This is not an action-packed film. There are some magnificent battle scenes, but mostly it is Chalamet and his exquisite features --- and acting ability --- telling the story of a greatly conflicted young king. He literally cannot trust anyone until he brings his ever-faithful friend, Falstaff, into his cabinet.
And Edgerton doesn’t disappoint in his role. He co-wrote the script with Michôd, so his understanding of the material is paramount. It is the finest performance of his career. He and Chalamet elicit a bond to be admired.
The stark beauty of THE KING lies in its superb cinematography by Director of Photography Adam Arkapaw. Everything about this movie is striking --- but most important is the field battle between Hal and The Dauphin. Falstaff predicts rain --- and then mud --- and we, the audience, are amazed. The armor of the day --- both on men and horses --- is in stark contrast to the sea of mud which the battlefield becomes. The aerial shots are breathtaking --- reducing the hundreds of soldiers to mere miniatures on a plain of muck.
Lily-Rose Depp stars as Catherine, King Charles of France’s daughter, whom he offers to Hal in marriage. She, too, suits the character beautifully, though it is a small one. Pattinson is truly memorable as The Dauphin --- almost outshining Chalamet in their scenes together. And lastly, Sean Harris plays William, Hal’s initial confidante on the Court until Hal realizes his true nature and duplicitous actions.
THE KING is an outstanding effort by Michôd, with a terrific screenplay by him and Edgerton. Though it will be available on Netflix, it is truly worth a trip to the theater to view it on the big screen.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!
Co-writer and star Joel Edgerton, along with co-writer and director David Michôd, have combined historical facts with cinematic liberties to create THE KING, a stunning epic about British monarch King Henry V. The story takes place in the early 15th century.
King Henry IV (Ben Mendelsohn) is dying and he wants his younger son, Thomas (Dean-Charles Chapman), to replace him as king. But Thomas is killed in battle, so that leaves Henry IV’s estranged elder son, Hal (Timothée Chalamet), to reluctantly assume the throne as Henry V. It is Chalamet’s incredibly strong performance that drives this film. Previously nominated for an Oscar in 2017 for CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, his turn as Henry V is equally worthy of an Academy Award nomination.
Chalamet’s thrilling speech to his troops as they prepare for the famed Battle of Agincourt with the much larger French army evokes memories of Mel Gibson’s (in his better days) William Wallace in BRAVEHEART, nearly 25 years ago. His stirring rally cry not only inspires the outnumbered English soldiers, but also induces goose bumps for the moviegoer. His vocal outbursts in the film speak volumes, as do his pensive moments of thoughtfulness.
Edgerton plays Hal’s long-time friend, Sir John Falstaff, a veteran of war who shuns further fighting, but agrees to counsel the newly crowned King. Of course, Falstaff inevitably joins the frantic hand-to-hand warfare that is the focal point of THE KING. It is Falstaff who frames the strategy for victory because his aching knee tells him it will rain, making the field of battle a quagmire for the heavily armored French soldiers. I always enjoy Edgerton’s performances --- this is probably his best.
The newly crowned Henry V proves his mettle early on in THE KING in a one-on-one, winner-take-all swordfight with one of his father’s chief critics. Although Chalamet is of slight build, we somehow never question Hal’s fighting ability, stamina or strength. And most fascinating are the English army’s techniques, with its limited technology, to gain an advantage over their opponent. Most apparent is the use of catapults that fling fireballs a long distance over the walls of a French castle.
The dialogue is also remarkable. In one scene, as Hal is apprised of his father’s impending death, and advised that he should visit him, Hal replies “that hook has lost its worm”. In another scene, the defeated French king says to Henry V --- and I paraphrase --- that for centuries to come, men of vanity and men of reason will have a conversation like the one we are about to have. How prophetic.
Of special note from the supporting cast are Robert Pattinson and Lily-Rose Depp. Pattinson plays the arrogant The Dauphin of France --- essentially the Prince --- who partially goads Henry V into a war with his insulting coronation gift of a single tennis ball, and later with his scathing face-to-face insults to Henry’s manhood. Pattinson is perfect in this cameo, although we see him later slip-sliding in the mud --- just like Falstaff predicted --- as he tries to take on the British king at Agincourt.
Meanwhile, Ms. Depp --- yep, she is Johnny’s daughter --- has a small but critical part as Catherine, the daughter of the vanquished King Charles VI of France (Thibault de Montalembert), who offers Henry her hand in marriage as part of the peace settlement. In her initial conversation with Henry, Catherine insists she speaks no English, then immediately utters the word “sublimate” to belie the truth. It’s a small dose of humor in a mostly serious film.
THE KING runs well over two hours but is never dull. It is violent, to be sure, but not even close to JOKER. Other than a brief, albeit ghastly, beheading early on, much of the fighting yields mayhem, but little bloodshed.
The era depicted in the movie takes place about 600 years ago. Yet not much has changed today in terms of the egos of ambitious men who would rather wage war than figure out a way to live peaceably. Again, I must repeat --- it is Chalamet’s bravura performance that makes THE KING a special piece of entertainment.
Opinion: Strong See It Now!