David Michôd’s The King may not be quite in the same league as his debut film Animal Kingdom, but it is certainly a competent effort, bolstered by commendable performances and stunning visuals. Adam Arkapaw is on cinematography duty, and somehow manages to make war look quite beautiful. As the men attack each other in the mud, or catapult flaming rocks into a castle, with the fire dancing merrily against the dark skies, it’s so visually arresting that we almost forget that we are in the midst of war.
Not to sound like a fangirl, but Timothée Chalamet truly is the best part of the film. He is magnetic to watch on screen, and conveys a quiet, kingly authority with such ease. It is fascinating to see his transition from the whoring prince of Wales, to a king who recognises the responsibility he wields and tries to do his best with the mess his father left him.
Despite his desire for peace, this is not a sentiment shared by the rest of his advisers, and he struggles with managing the line between royal vanity and reason. It is a heavy burden to bear, especially when he is not sure who to trust, because everyone is pushing forth their own agendas. There is no room for naivety and idealism in these spaces, and as the movie progresses, we see Henry shed these layers, donning armour not only for battle but for the political sphere as well.
The only one he can trust and call a friend is Sir John Falstaff, played by Joel Edgerton, who also has writing and producing credits. Edgerton is such a chameleon of an actor, slipping into any role with such dexterity, and it is a shame that he isn’t in the movie more. He plays a man who has left the spaces of war behind, only to return because of a friend’s request. He is a father figure, an adviser, and his support for Henry knows no bounds. The scenes between Edgerton and Chalamet feel so stripped down and honest in contrast to all the tip-toeing and tension in the political spaces.
It would be remiss of me not to mention Robert Pattinson’s performance, though I am uncertain as to whether I should applaud him or laugh at him. His French accent does not sound good. I’m not French and the closest I have been to French speaking people was when I was in Paris for a day, but that accent cannot be authentic. If it is, I’ll eat my shoe. He is such a caricature as the dauphin of France that even when he is threatening Henry or remarking on his genitalia, I simply could not take him seriously. It is clear that Pattinson meant to play the role in such a bonkers way, and while his entrance certainly enlivens the tone of the film, it just really feels out of place in the large scheme of things.
The film is a loose adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henriad, which is evident through how contemporary the dialogue is. This of course makes it more palatable for a modern audience, especially given how long it is (2 hours and 20 minutes), but without the poetry of Shakespeare’s language, it feels quite empty at times. Still, the conversation the film opens with regards to war has a currency to it, where the cost of war is always emphasized, and the reasons behind its momentum never amounts to anything more than man’s shallow need to fulfill our own purposes.
Henry comes to terms with this in the scene with Lily Rose-Depp’s Catherine, who is a lovely woman with quite the wit and barb-wired tongue. At this point. we would expect the dust to have settled, yet she stirs it up again, and they enter into a fierce debate with one another, with Henry seeing that she will make a good wife to him not because she is beautiful, but because she, practically a stranger, is honest with him, when the men closest to him deceive at every turn. And so it ends with a clasping of hands, and the promise of peace – though we know it is never long before war comes knocking again.