What’s it about?
Prince Hal (Timothée Chalamet) is a wayward, reluctant heir to the English throne who’s turned his back on his destiny to live among the people. Dirty digs, endless nights in the tavern with his heavy-drinking pal Sir John Falstaff (Joel Edgerton) and causal sex are all features of this new life he’s forged for himself away from the royal court. But when his tyrannical father (the excellent Ben Mendelsohn of Bloodline and Dark Knight Rises) dies, Hal is crowned King Henry V and forced to embrace the life he tried to escape.
The young king must navigate the palace politics, chaos and war his father left behind, and the emotional strings of his past life, including his relationship with ageing alcoholic Falstaff. Loosely based on William Shakespeare’s eight play-strong Henriad series, which spans Richard II to Henry V, The King weaves together both Shakespearian and real-life 15th-century characters to create a visually pleasing film with a pacy, accessible plot.
Who’s in it?
First up is Timothée Chalamet as Prince Hal/King Henry. Social media exploded when his trademark floppy locks were traded in for a hipster bowl cut in the first trailer. Hype around Chalamet’s involvement in The King has been building ever since, and his performance doesn’t disappoint. In many ways, The King is a coming-of-age film, a classic role for Chalamet, who impressed as precocious 17-year-old Elio in Call Me By Your Name and as a meth-addicted teen in Beautiful Boy. He flips through Hal’s many character developments with ease: the lazy hedonist; the skilled swordsman who saves his brother on the battlefield; the peaceful, inexperienced new ruler; the ruthless leader who has no qualms beheading his enemies. It’s a strong performance.
Hal’s main adversary is ‘The Dauphin’, played by a long-maned Robert Pattinson (High Life, Cosmopolis). As Louis, the son of the French king Charles VI, Pattinson injects an element of humour into the gloomy surrounds of mud-slogged Agincourt with his brilliantly overblown French accent and child-like desire to antagonise the English monarch. It’s the latest in a string of interesting roles for the former Twilight star, who has been confirmed to play Bruce Wayne in 2021’s The Batman and will be seen in Oscar bait The Lighthouse alongside Willem Dafoe early next year. Although he has relatively little screen time in The King, his interpretation of Louis makes a real impact.
In Shakespeare’s plays, Falstaff is an overweight, perpetually drunk former knight. In the hands of Joel Edgerton (Zero Dark Thirty, The Great Gatsby), the unreliable merrymaker goes on to become a battlefield commander and natural strategist. Another source of comic relief, Falstaff is both an anchor for Hal and a plot driver when it comes to the film’s central battle. Elsewhere, Lily-Rose Depp – daughter of Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis, and Chalamet’s real-life girlfriend – plays the French princess who marries Hal. The pair met on set and the chemistry between them in the few scenes they’re in together crackles. Unsurprisingly, Depp’s French accent is the best of the bunch, and the scene where she schools Hal in warfare is impeccable. We can’t wait to see what she does next.
Is it worth a watch?
Don’t be put off by the armour and swords – this is well worth watching. Fans of period pieces such as Game of Thrones, Wolf Hall and the sweeping hallways and hushed conversations that dominated The Favourite will be at home here. For a start, there’s more dialogue than fighting, and the iambic pentameter of Shakespeare’s texts has been switched up to modernise the production and make the script flow.
The film also deserves praise for its wonderful cinematography (make sure to turn the lights down to witness its muddy tones in their full glory), and the way director David Michôd makes 140 minutes feel like 90. But best of all, Michôd has given Depp, Pattinson – and Chalamet in particular – space to expand their repertoires. Bring on December’s much-hyped, Chalamet-starring Little Women.
The King is available to watch on Netflix now and will be in cinemas from 11th November.
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