Most stories are usually just variations on a theme…
While The King does just enough to be a pleasant diversion it’s treading through the pages of William Shakespeare’s that have already been well travelled and don’t necessarily provide a lot of new ground to cover.
Hal (Timothée Chalamet), wayward prince and reluctant heir to the English throne, has turned his back on royal life and is living among the people. But when his tyrannical father dies, Hal is crowned King Henry V and is forced to embrace the life he had previously tried to escape. Now 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 his closest friend and mentor, the ageing alcoholic knight, John Falstaff (Joel Edgerton)
Admittedly; The King is more of a mash up of Shakespeare’s collection of plays called the Henriad (which includes Henry V) and while it all has a certain sense of menace to it all, playing a little fast and loose with some of the history behind it for entertainment value it’s all just material that feels very familiar with an unmistakable ‘been there, done that’ kind of vibe not bringing anything new to the table.
From director David Michôd and co-written by Michôd and Edgerton, The King certainly looks good and is a more then well structured affair with a loaded cast to take us through a narrative that while bloated and occasionally repetitive is never actually boring given the mostly impressive ensemble that comes to bear on the material. Sadly it suffers from a lack of heart and while it is making some very pointed political statements that can be applied even to the world today, it’s just never really gives us a reason to care.
The performances up and the down the cast range from scenery chewing to somewhat interesting where need be, but with its leading man Chalamet it never feels like the words on the page which do actually have some oomph to them never really come across. It’s all trying to combine old school bravado and tales of epic men, with modern day apathy and it never rings as true as it would like. Obviously the entire ensemble genuinely does elevate the material the best that they can and Michôd puts together some intense and brutal battle scenes, but the genuine lack of connection with most of the characters really makes the film suffer.
While I certainly don’t doubt that Timothée Chalamet can handle the words of the Bard, this adaptation isn’t doing him any favors. He’s fine enough as the young wayward man forced into the halls of power through circumstance and ultimately manipulated by those around him until he finally understands the meaning of ruling, but it just feels like he’s not quite suited for this story. In support around him Joel Edgerton is actually quite strong as Falstaff, Sean Harris ultimately shows his true colours as his royal advisor and both Ben Mendelsohn and Robert Pattinson got to chew the scenery as Henry the IVth and the Dauphin of France respectively. Everyone is fine…and even occasionally fun but it lacks the urgency and emotion of the moment for it to rise any further then the middle of the pack of adaptations of this material.
Sure, The King certainly wants to make a point, but it doesn’t always know what that is. As it lacks the genuine cinematic scope to be a blood and guts sword swinging rise to power and it lacks the drama of the coming of age story that it wants to be in the halls of those who rule. It’s got elements of it all to be sure, enough to make it a decent watch, but never enough of those qualities to make it a truly memorable one.
The King is having an exclusive run at the TIFF Bell Lightbox before it opens on the streaming service on Nov. 1st.
- Genre: Drama, Historical, Shakespearean
- Release Date: 10/16/2019
- Directed by: David Michôd
- Starring: Joel Edgerton, Robert Pattinson, Sean Harris, Timothée Chalamet
- Written by: David Michôd, Joel Edgerton
- Studio: Netflix
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