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Film Review: The King

24 December 19 words: Miriam Blakemore-Hoy

David Michôd's historical epic reframes Shakespeare's Henry V, culminating in the bloody, barbaric battle at Agincourt. But is it worth watching?

Director: David Michôd

Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Sean Harris, Joel Edgerton

Running time: 140 mins

Its pretty clear from the off that this entire film has borrowed heavily from Shakespeare epics Henry V, Parts 1 and 2.  But you may be pleased to learn that most of the flowery Shakespearian jargon has been booted unceremoniously out of this production. Instead, what is offered up by director David Michôd is a stripped-down version which, despite the rigorous attention to historical accuracy, feels weirdly contemporary as the politics between a mistrustful England and France lead both countries to war.  Prince Hal, otherwise known as Henry V, has always been considered a bit of an English hero or legend, after overthrowing the kingdom of France early on in his rule. But here, we delve a bit further into the motivations and actions that may have led to such events taking place and not all of them have the golden glow that the myths might have you believe.

Timothée Chalamet as the eponymous prince turned king, brings a certain youthfulness to the role, being a couple of years younger than the real-life Henry. But he certainly doesn’t bring with him any notions of innocence in what it means to rule the country and make the difficult decisions that a king has to make. His eyes are definitely wide open to the burden that he is forced to take on, in the wake of his father’s death - not only in trying to heal a country spilt apart by years of internal warfare, but in putting to rest the doubt and open hostility that his subjects feel about him being called into a role he is undeserving of. To guide him through a labyrinth of dangerous decisions he has two men to guide him, the rough and ready Falstaff (Joel Edgerton) and the calm and watchful William (Sean Harris), but can a King ever truly trust anyone’s judgement but his own?

The questions that arise towards the end tilt the whole story on its head forcing us to take another look at a fairly familiar tale

The cinematography is truly beautiful and there are some incredible battle scenes, particularly on the infamous Agincourt fields.  But the film perhaps takes too much care in giving background to the story at hand, and too long to warm up properly. The politics are hugely relevant in understanding the anguish that Hal is led to feel, but by the time the action comes, some of the audience’s attention may have drifted. And while the focus stays firmly on the main character, it becomes harder to drum up sympathy for the orbiting characters who we know very little about. 

It’s not very clear why Hal trusts Falstaff so implicitly as he seems to be motivated more by personal interests that by his friendship with the prince.  It’s only when he is on the battlefield that his role really becomes apparent, and it’s a long wait until then. There’s also a runtime of two and a half hours, which seems longer than it should. But while the first half takes a while to get off the ground, the second half makes up for it abundantly ending in a way that suits the heavy, brooding nature of the film perfectly. ( And the questions that arise towards the end tilt the whole story on its head forcing us to take another look at a fairly familiar tale.)

Did you know? Timothée Chalamet said that his funniest memory from filming was seeing Robert Pattinson vaping on set, in full armor and make-up.

The King is available on Netflix now

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