The King is a sometimes riveting, sometimes rickety retelling of Shakespeare’s Henry V, starring Oscar-nominee Timothée Chalamet as a young reluctant king who’s quickly steered into a war with France by a retinue of advisors with questionable loyalties.Directed by David Michôd (Animal Kingdom, The Rover), and written by Michôd and Chalamet’s co-star Joel Edgerton (Black Mass), The King attempts to take what’s commonly known about the famous play — that King Henry (given the common name “Hal” here) was pushed into a war by a self-serving council — and tether it to larger, modernly relevant themes about power and inherited violence.
As much as Chalamet’s Hal tries to course-correct the chaos caused by his father, Henry IV (Ben Mendelsohn), he’s still easily convinced that his duty, as king, is to appear strong at all times. Which means aggression, usually at the high cost of human life.
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Chalamet shines in this role, which evolves throughout the film, transforming Hal from a drunken cad who shuns every aspect of his birthright into a vengeful force fueled by lies and malicious momentum. Though, to be fair, Hal’s wise enough to know he’s surrounded by vipers so, to keep himself grounded, he brings in Edgerton’s Falstaff – a former soldier who’s turned to wine, women, and song. And, most importantly, a man who knows the heart of Hal and is there to rein Hal in and serve up hard truths.
But is it enough for Hal to bring in an old friend who knew him before he was the exalted ruler of England? Well, certainly not when you’re constantly being taunted by Robert Pattinson’s Dauphine, the twisted preening son of King Charles VI of France. Pattinson doesn’t have a lot of screen time, but he sure makes the most of it, providing a pitch-perfect corporeal adversary for Hal to overcome while, at the same time, Hal battles the corrupting forces slowly seizing control of his heart.
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The King is Chalamet’s show for sure, with Edgerton providing solid backup. Hal and Falstaff’s friendship doesn’t quite shine through enough to resonate the way it should, but it is used to provide an interesting twist to the famed Battle of Agincourt, which rightfully takes up the movie’s third act. Everyone else in the film, as good as they are — like Mendelsohn, Sean Harris (M.I.: Fallout), and Lily-Rose Depp — feel sort of like tapestry.
That’s certainly is in keeping with the idea that being king is a lonely, somewhat sorrowful endeavor. As Falstaff states, “Kings don’t have friends, only followers. Or foes.” Michôd uses this to create a very solitary journey, though it also makes for a stifling story at times. The battle sequences come off like standard clang n’ bang, interesting not because of production value but because of who Hal is, where his heart is at when they’re happening.