Henry IV part one and two and Henry V combine into a singular story that plays homage to Shakespeare’s characters. While creating a completely fresh take on his famous plays in David Michôd’s new Netflix film The King.
The King is not a Shakespearian adaptation, and anyone watching the film expecting such, should watch the divine ‘The Hollow Crown’ instead. However, this is in no way a criticism of the The King. Which in many ways acts as an entry point to Shakespeare, a delicious if slightly confused snap shot of a literary legend. And one that might just encourage people who feel alienated by Shakespeare to visit his work.
Shakespeares historical characters are taken on a vastly different journey in David Michôd and Joel Edgerton’s story. The confidence of the newly crowned king cloaked in insecurity. The buffoonery and sadness of Fallstaff replaced by an all the more serious interpretation with Edgerton. Fallstaff’s Shakespearian journey subverted into one of bravery and sacrifice. A journey that those who love Henry IV may find difficult to swallow, myself included.
Before he becomes Henry V, Hal is a boy who shuns all the responsibility attached to his name and position. Spending his time drinking, partying and sleeping his way round London. A 15th Century teenage rebel, who hates his father and has no time for the position of King. But when his father Henry IV (Ben Mendelsohn) dies, he reluctantly assumes the responsibilities he was intent on running away from. Convinced he can build a better kingdom than the one his father presided over. However, as war with France looms, the newly crowned Henry V must prove his place. His own temperament changed as politics and war collide.
There is much to be admired in attempting to condense three play’s into one film. However, the end result is patchy in narrative. The importance of the character building inherent in Henry IV part one and two quickly skirted over as we move into the territory of Henry V. This creates a void in defining the themes of power, family and position Shakespeare constructed. While never allowing Hal to fully explore his earlier years. Creating a film that does not find its footing until Hal becomes the newly crowned Henry V. Equally characters including Henry Percy (Tom Glynn-Carney) feel rushed, their importance to the overarching story never fully appreciated in the final film.
However, despite these weaknesses the film is rescued by its young lead Timothée Chalamet. Who once again proves his place as one of the finest young actors in modern cinema. Chalamet’s King Henry is naive, youthful and full of eagerness to define his place and purpose. His new responsibilities uncomfortably sitting on his narrow shoulders, the weight of politics hanging around his slender neck. This is an insecure but stoic young King, who is still finding his own place in the world around him. Chalamet’s outstanding performance full of emotion, sincerity and fear. A truly beautiful character study of a boy becoming a man in the face of power.
His scenes alongside Robert Pattinson’s gloriously sinister and egotistical Dauphin of France are pure cinematic joy. Both characters clashing beautifully in scenes that feel like a 15th Century ‘whose dick is bigger’ high school clash.
Equally impressive is the clunky armour, the filth of battle and the decay of innocence the film portrays. Matched with cinematography that bathes the film in subtle colour, with natural light gloriously used to full effect in creating a sense of realism. The battle scenes bogged down in mud and blood. While the danger and darkness of political advice in defining actions sits centre stage. In fact it is within the political realm where Michôd’s film is at its most interesting. It’s critique on power sitting with those who seek to advise rather the one who wears the crown. A beautiful exploration of political power that plays to the cynicism inherent in modern political turmoil.
The King is far from perfect in construction, but does open a door to those who have never visited the work of Shakespeare. While also delivering an engaging piece of historical drama that plays to well to a Game of Thrones generation.
Director: David Michôd
Cast: Timothée Chalamet, Joel Edgerton, Sean Harris, Lily-Rose Depp, Robert Pattinson, Ben Mendelsohn, Tom Glynn-Carney.
Australia / United States / United Kingdom (2019)
Robert Pattinson also appears in the following Cinerama reviews: High Life
Tom Glynn Carney also appears in the following Cinerama reviews: Rialto