With the success of recent historical dramas, both through streaming services and on the silver screen, it was only about time before an eager film-maker took on a classic like Shakespeare’s Henry the Fifth.
Based on the play and inspired by real events, Australians David Michôd and Joel Edgerton created a fresh yet real take on the medieval masterpiece in The King, now streaming on Netflix.
The Australian duo tell the story of Henry V (Timothée Chalamet) who, following the deaths of his father Henry IV (Ben Mendelsohn) and younger brother Thomas (Dean-Charles Chapman), inherits both the throne – and the enemies his father made during his reign.
Taking place during the Hundred Years War (1337-1453), King Henry V must rely on his trusted old friend and moral compass, Sir John Falstaff (Joel Edgerton), to expose his enemies both inside and outside the palace walls.
From the dark isolating sets within the palace to the battle bruised meadows and fields, cinematographer Adam Arkapaw is able to capture the essence of each shot and delivers a realistic image of war in the middle ages.
Edgerton is outstanding in his portrayal as King Henry’s right-hand man, seamlessly moving between heart and humour to keep the audience invested at all the right times.
Though his role as Falstaff is secondary to that of Henry, Edgerton’s performance as the young King’s nonchalant mentor and loyal friend outshines Chalamet and the rest of the cast.
Confronted by a difficult decision obscured by the self-serving advice of his command, King Henry asks his silent friend in frustration “Where is the fearsome old warrior Falstaff!”.
Speaking with authority and a lifetime of experience, Falstaff responds saying “I only speak when there is something to be said”.
This decisive scene sums up Edgerton’s strong on-screen presence which, even in silence, exudes a charisma which engages the viewer.
In the lead as Henry, Chalamet does well to portray a King who is young, inexperienced and sceptical of those closest to him in power.
Unfortunately, Chalamet’s performance is tainted by his hard-to-believe portrayal of Henry as a defiant womanising drunkard in the film’s first act compared to the seasoned, canny king in the next – a transformation which seems to be almost instant.
Eventually, Chalamet comes into his own, giving audiences many standout moments where he channels a brave and noble King of the kind one imagines Shakespeare envisioned.
One cannot review The King without commenting on one of the most hysterical and enthusiastic performances, that of Robert Pattinson as the Dauphin of France.
Taking inspiration, apparently, from Pepe Le Pew, Pattinson’s cartoonish French accent is both ridiculous and glorious, expressing the saying that “it’s so bad, it’s good”.
Though underused and brief in appearance, it is the performances of the supporting cast like Thomasin McKenzie as Queen Phillipa and Lily Rose-Depp as Catherine de Valois which play a profound role in the film’s success.
David Michôd’s The King, rated MA 15+, is currently showing on Netflix and is highly recommended for those who enjoy historical dramas.