Netflix’s The King is inspired by William Shakespeare’s famous group of history plays the Henriad. Directed by David Michôd, it stars Timothée Chalamet and Robert Pattinson. While the former sports a bowl cut, the latter puts on a very interesting interpretation of a French accent, to say the least. Michôd’s Shakespeare adaptation is certainly entertaining and a modern take on the Henriad, but overall, it fails to impress.
Set in the early 14th century, The King tells the story of young Hal, Prince of Wales (Timothée Chalamet), heir to the English throne. The wayward prince has no interest whatsoever in his fathers throne, and spends his days drinking and as far away from the court as possible. However, with the death of his father King Henry IV, he is crowned King Henry V and has to leave his old life behind. Though trying to distinguish himself from his power-hungry, war-waging father, he soon finds himself facing his nemesis, the Dauphin of France (Robert Pattinson) on the battlefield.
The King is a mash-up between Shakespeare’s Henry IV, part 1 and 2, and Henry V. I don’t mind that The King is only loosely based on those plays and thus changes some of its’ key details. What I do mind however, is how Michôd and co-writer Joel Edgerton chose to re-write the dialogue almost completely – instead of having their characters converse in iambic pentameter; they speak some sort of old-time English that one can’t quite place, and oddly enough curse fairly frequently.
In general, the film has a very serious tone. I don’t think Chalamet cracks a single smile in what feels like very lengthy and gloomy 140 minutes. Considering the conspiracies and intrigues the newly crowned king is faced with, this is somewhat understandable. However, even Sir John Falstaff (played by Joel Edgerton), Henry’s faithful companion and trusted advisor, usually a comic character, isn’t particularly funny. Enter the Dauphin, who presents a stark contrast to those rather stern characters. I don’t know if the choice of French accent put on by Pattinson was supposed to be comical – in my opinion it sounded very fake, his portrayal of the Dauphin was almost satirical and from the minute he opened his mouth I couldn’t really take him serious.
That being said, while Pattinson’s performance falls short, both Chalamet and Edgerton make up for it. Chalamet basically carries the film since he has the most screen time and dialogue. All together he makes for a very convincing monarch, showing the transformation from peaceful and somewhat naïve king to strong leader on the battlefield. Furthermore, Edgerton convinces as a loyal and brave Falstaff. And though his character and the fate he is met with are quite different from what Shakespeare wrote it to be like, his performance is remarkably strong.
The King also convinces with its visuals. The films serious mood is underlined by the dramatic lights and shadows, captured in closed rooms such as in the castle or in the tavern, but also out in the open on the vast fields and forests of France. The viewer also gets to enjoy moody twilight and beautiful sunrises on screen as well as some epic battle scenes.
The King does feel lengthy and presents a bit of a strange contrast between serious drama and what borders on satire. However, if you’re in for a modern interpretation of Shakespeare, want to admire Timothée Chalamet’s stern but handsome face for 140 minutes and enjoy period pieces, this film is for you.