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Stephanie Watts

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The King – first look review

Timothée Chalamet sports a crown and a bowl cut as King Henry V in David Michôd's sombre historical drama.

In The King, writers Joel Edgerton and David Michôd (also on directing duties) have squeezed not one, not two, but three Shakespeare plays into one film: Henry IV Parts 1 & 2 and Henry V. The historic tale of the rise of King Henry and his victory at the Battle of Agincourt stars Timothée Chalamet as the young Prince Hal, avoiding his father (Ben Mendelsohn) and his royal duties in Eastcheap with his good friend and drunken rascal, Jon Falstaff (a rather jolly-looking Joel Edgerton). When his father dies Hal must take up the mantle and finish the conflicts that his predecessor started, regardless of whether or not they align with his beliefs.

Chalamet, sporting a surprisingly modern bowl cut – perhaps a symbol of a new, more modern generation of rulers – is incredibly serious, almost surly at points, and there are few laughs to be had in the first half of the film, despite the satirical nature of the source text. Both parts of Henry IV are reduced to basic plot points and crammed into an hour of static, stern conversations between Henry and his advisors in order to set up the second half. It’s actually something of a relief that The King forgoes both Shakespearean language and long soliloquies; even Henry’s famous St Crispin’s Day Speech is omitted in favour of a short and rousing address, delivered with passionate energy by Chalamet.

Once The King leaves the dreary courts of England and heads to France for battle, things begin to pick up. Robert Pattinson gives arguably the most entertaining performance of the entire movie as the utterly ridiculous Dauphin of France, appearing intermittently to pout and insult Henry in an atrocious French accent. Sean Harris is also well utilised, whispering advice into Henry’s ear with the menacing aura that he brings to so many of his roles. It’s difficult to tell whether he should be trusted, and that makes Henry seem all the more young and inexperienced.

Shakespeare’s Henry V has been interpreted in different ways regarding its stance on war, and The King does well to grapple with the question of whether violence is a necessity. Hal is in favour of peace at the beginning of the film, but he surrenders to outbursts of violent sentiments and actions, at one point ordering Falstaff to put prisoners’ heads on spikes. Despite trudging through a great deal of plot, The King does still manage to raise the question of whether Henry’s invasion of France was justified, and examine whether he escaped following in his father’s footsteps, or is in fact no different from him.

Published 2 Sep 2019

Tags: David Michôd Timothée Chalamet Venice Film Festival

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