Rarely is a film as unexpectedly effective as The King, delivering on and exceeding expectations set by its marketing. Part historical drama, part adaptation of three of Shakespeare’s plays, it should in no way be viewed as an accurate retelling of the story of King Henry V. Nevertheless, it is perhaps thanks to its literary source material that The King presents an expertly told tale of power, morality, deception, and the consequences of one’s actions.
Timothée Chalamet’s Henry is a reluctant, young king who grapples with the responsibilities he has reluctantly inherited. He arguably views his positions from a more modern perspective, questioning the war-waging methods conducted by previous administration. Chalamet elegantly conveys Henry’s internal struggle of wanting to lead more admirably and peacefully, maintaining his image of power, and making the right decisions, all the while questioning the trustworthiness of those that surround him. Despite a lack of scenes that directly call for it, Chalamet impressively conveys Henry’s good-natured and caring self, whilst being buried under layers of authoritative and commanding stoicism. It’s a truly layered performance for which he deserves considerable praise.
Joel Edgerton and Sean Harris command the screen as Henry’s closest advisors, complementing Chalamet’s performance. They both exude a sense of warmth mixed with intelligence, often serving as anchors to the self-doubting Henry. Edgerton’s Falstaff in particular, is the film’s main source of humour, which is delivered with subtle, sarcastic wit and never feels misplaced. Despite their minor roles, scenes with Robert Pattinson and Lily-Rose Depp stand out, with Pattinson channeling an intimidating, unpredictable intensity similar to that of his performance in Good Time, and Depp’s character serving a pivotal role in both the plot as well as Henry’s development. The cast’s excellent performances are all in service of a thrilling script, with engrossing dialogue containing syntax and register that expertly and almost poetically balance complexity with intelligibility to modern audiences.
It would be a cardinal sin to not mention the film’s incredible technical aspects. The first rate production design, costuming and battle choreography are all elevated by Adam Arkapaw’s rich, atmospheric cinematography, David Michôd’s immaculate direction and Peter Sciberras’ precise editing. All of this is accompanied by Nicholas Britell’s excellent musical score, which is both haunting and at times heartbreaking. Notably, the track ‘Ballade in F# Minor: Trebuchets’ and its featuring scene combine into one of the film’s most memorable sequences, as they perfectly convey the futility and tragedy of war. The film’s slow, brooding pacing is near flawless. Yet, despite the 140-minute runtime, it is so riveting that it could arguably have been longer, and allowed for Pattinson’s and Depp’s characters, as well as the overall narrative to be ever-so-slightly more developed. The narrative is by no means lacking, however the climax may have been even more satisfying if more plot developments transpired prior to it. While it’s entirely possible that an extended runtime would be of detriment to the pace, this (along with one short scene whose entire aim seems to be purely exposition) is the film’s only weakness.
Although it may unfortunately be forgotten about during awards discussions, The King is deserving of the highest recommendation (especially considering its availability via Netflix). With fantastic performances, production, music and an engrossing, thematically rich narrative, it is an excellent piece of historical fiction, a highly effective drama and one of the year’s best films.
Image: Somewhere in Toronto via Wikipedia