Movie Review: The King

By Source, Fair use,

Today I’m reviewing the new Netflix film The King. Fair warning this is not a historical work but instead an adaption of William Shakespeare’s Henry V. Though I will say that there was some great work in making this look and feel like a true to life period piece in the same vein as Outlaw King.

Like in Shakespeare’s Henry V, many of the characters come from real life and some real life events happened but some were made up or changed to make the story more relatable and perhaps marketable. Timothée Chalamet plays the titular king, Henry V. Starting out as a roguish character more inclined to drink and joke around with his friends one being Sir John Falstaff (Joel Edgerton), an alcoholic and grizzled veteran soldier, while his younger brother Thomas is groomed to be the next king. This is a bit different than in the actual history where there wasn’t an actual Sir John Falstaff (more on that in a minute) and Henry V was not known as a carouser in his youth due in large part to his involvement in politics and military expeditions. Falstaff here differs than the Shakespearean character as he is more of a brave character than how Henry V depicted him. Sir John Falstaff was based on Sir John Oldcastle, who was something of a mentor to Henry but was executed in 1417 for rebellion against the king. There was, however, a Sir John Fastolf who was more of an inspiration for the Shakespearean Falstaff. Fastolf was a successful and brilliant knight who helped in the initial sieges but then missed Agincourt due to illness.

As it happens the roguish main character who doesn’t want to be a king is forced to be king due to fate’s intervention and so Prince Hal, as he is called at the beginning, becomes Henry V. Politics and perceived insults begin to surface from those who doubt Henry’s abilities and from France. There are plots and schemes all around and Henry has to be smart and quick to avoid them. Foreshadowing from various characters is sprinkled in throughout to begin setting the stage for the coming action. Remember that Henry V ruled during the 100 Years War that saw England, with their allies, fighting the forces of the Kingdom of France and their allies. Falstaff, earlier pushed a side by circumstance, is brought into Henry’s fold to help lead the army through France and against the Dauphin, played amazingly by Robert Pattinson. The climax is the historical battle of Agincourt, Henry’s marriage to Catherine Valois and followed by Henry’s realization of who to trust.

To start off in the critique, the film was great. The historical feel was there and as accurate as I’ve seen in any film in years. The armor, clothing and speech was all period. The mannerisms, customs and the actions of the court felt genuine. Seeing bits of the true events helped to set a good stage, there were some areas were the events of the film did not match real life but that is how it is in films. As mentioned earlier, this is an adaption of Henry V by Shakespeare and not the true life of Henry V. That said, it was entertaining and focused on the main character and his actions. He showed signs of honor early on during his time as prince and that helped to show his mental state as king. Too often you have a character come across one way in the beginning of a book or film only to do a 180 when they become a king or leader. Here that wasn’t the case. Henry was shown to be concerned and honorable even as he was drinking in the taverns and making merry. His change once becoming king could be considered just as he toned down the drinking.

Chalamet did an excellent job playing Henry, though he was a bit more of a brooding character than what many would expect. Still, he made a point early on that he did not seek the throne and yet he became the king. That would leave many to be upset or reluctant in their rule. So, maybe there is a good reason for the brooding. Pattinson was great as the Dauphin, not the one that was in love with Joan of Arc, and made him into an evil, arrogant counter part to Henry’s stoic ruling style. That played well as Henry sought to protect soldiers throughout the film, even holding off executing prisoners until late in the film, while the Dauphin was more inclined to let the armies kill each other. Most of the other lords, a part from Falstaff and William Gascoigne who was played by Sean Harris, blended into the scenery. They were there and they had a good amount of screen time but they weren’t attention grabbing. Harris’ Gascoigne was admirable as the needed voice of conscience and reason. Still, Harris gave the vibe that something might be off.

The action scenes were great and choreographed very well. The battle of Agincourt looked accurate and was tremendous. Think Battle of the Bastards level intensity. Henry was overshadowed by Falstaff in the strategy of the battle which was disappointing for me as a historian since Henry V was an excellent tactician. Still, one cannot deny that the battle in the film and the scenes leading up to it were done very well. The only thing missing was the St Crispin’s Day speech from Shakespeare’s Henry V in Act IV in the famous scene iii. Had that speech been in the film I’d have probably teared up from memories of drama club.

To sum it up, Netflix’s Henry V was an amazing work of cinematic art that is in line with other period pieces that they have been producing. A great film that give a historic look into one of Shakespeare’s most famous works.
4.5 out of 5 STARS!
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