Director: David Michôd
Writers: David Michôd, Joel Edgerton
Stars: Timothée Chalamet, Joel Edgerton, Sean Harris, Ben Mendelsohn, Robert Pattinson, Lily-Rose Depp, Thomasin McKenzie
Synopsis: Hal, wayward prince and heir to the English throne, is crowned King Henry V after his tyrannical father dies. Now the young king must navigate palace politics, the war his father left behind, and the emotional strings of his past life.
Honestly, one of Netflix’s production formulae must be “add one royal figure to a blossoming filmmaker and generate a sizeable LARP session (with two-thirds of the budget spent on mud).” This was put into effect for the first time last year, when Robert the Bruce headlined David Mackenzie’s Outlaw King. While the results were entertaining, they weren’t satisfying since the fighting component received more care than the theatrical one. Also, it was clear that using Chris Pine’s eggplant as a promo peg was only effective to some degree.
In this The King, in this case, is no doubt the streaming giant giving the maybe-formula a second go: This time handing Henry V to Animal Kingdom’s David Michôd, plus a footnote saying to hype up its lead actor’s bowl cut. Upon seeing how everything plays out, one can declare, with confidence, that this round surpasses the last, yet still not scott-free from stumbles. Well, since it’s all humans behind the production, to err is OK?
Netflix’s take on Shakespeare’s Henriad series — loose, since contemporary is the descriptor for the speeches and sensibilities — is powered by this palpable magnetism, most of which comes from Michôd’s direction. Serenity is ample on the surface, but that makes us more alert and receptive to all other, and usually chaotic, visual-storytelling elements. As with The Rover, the world comes to you. As with Animal Kingdom, the characters have great visibility. These are perfect boons for The King, whose setting is a disjointed kingdom pressured by France’s need for war and whose populace we’ll mingle with the most are working out how the young Hal (Timothée Chalamet) can rule mightily as Henry V after his father (Ben Mendelsohn) fell ill. It might become difficult to think that you’re not watching a successor to Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth at times — Shakespearean source, Sean Harris (playing Chief Justice William), smoky-but-savory lensing from Adam Arkapaw, to name a few parallels — but, even then, is there harm in that? Michôd’s craftsmanship builds a direct line between the audience and the frame, guaranteeing you to a place among the weary citizenry (all well-costumed by Jane Petrie from Outlaw King), the battles that matter most (the gravity comes through Nicholas Brittell’s score) and the palace politics keeping the king of The King on constant alert.
But by being able to absorb everything you’ll find that there’s a missing piece: an understanding of the characters despite the aforementioned visibility. Though its main man is the focal point, the script from Michôd and Joel Edgerton seems to spend more resources on the happenings surrounding him, sometimes more blatant than others. When there is a window to learn more about the gears that move Hal, it will be avoided, leaving us no other means to appreciate Hal beyond the surface level. And as Falstaff, a skilled warrior who is also Hal’s best friend, Edgerton was supposed to be an ally! No matter, though — much like the young king he is embodying Chalamet never loses himself, through thick and thin evoking a kind of dignity that makes him irresistible to watch. Those “kid wearing a crown” remarks? Nothing. The assaultive French-accented English from the slimy Dauphin (Robert Pattinson)? Unregistered. Imagine how much more the actor could bring had the writing allowed psychology to leave a firmer footprint. Still, even when The King misses out the chance to let us share the uneasiness — and the heaviness — of the crown on Henry V’s head, the spectacle characterizing the rest of the works are far from lowliness.
We shall see if the third attempt will be a complete run being a complete fun. There are no shortage of royalties in Asia, last time one checked…
Overall Grade: B-