England’s “warrior king,” Henry V, earns a beautifully detailed period piece biography, a martial showcase for Timothée Chalamet, best known for fey roles that play up his beauty and sensitivity.
As “The King,” he twirls a mean broadsword, draws his dirk and wrestles armored French noblemen into the mud where they writhe until he stabs them in the neck until dead, the way it was done in the 15th century during the Hundred Years War.
But period piece detail aside, it’s a pedestrian, sodden film. It’s not Shakespeare’s “Henry V.” The odd good line aside, without Shakespeare, there is no poetry to it.
Not one moment thrills or moves.
A quick trip to Wikipedia reveals the degree of dramatic license and downright historical poppycock.
And if it’s not history and it’s not thrilling Shakespearean poetry, what the hell’s the point?
The idea behind Aussie David Michôd’s film is making Henry a reluctant warrior, a man who counsels peace, does not get along with his paranoid, power mad father (Ben Mendelsohn).
“You will NOT inherit this crown,” his father growls.
“Nor have I SOUGHT it!” the kid bellows back.
Henry engages in single combat to prevent battles, struggles to guard his younger brother, the newly-anointed heir, and spare the army slaughter in the process, and is slow to anger at French provocations when he takes the throne.
He’s almost embarrassed at his coronation, telling his nobles “You shall suffer the indignity of serving me, the wayward son you despise.”
The “man of action” that’s been the traditional way of presenting Henry V is made more thoughtful, more in conflict with the temper of the court and public opinion (the English always spoiling for a fight with the French).
The middling mini-series style script mashes up the history that Shakespeare drew on — Holinshead’s Chronicles — and Shakespeare’s “characters.” We see the same callow partying Prince Hal of Shakespeare, the drunken whoremonger who had to grow up to fill his father’s crown, and his mentor during his wastrel years, Sir John Falstaff (Joel Edgerton, who co-wrote the script). But Hal becomes “Henry” without denying Falstaff, with no “I know thee not, old man.”
And Falstaff? The comical coward of Hal’s youth and Shakespeare’s showcase comedy for him, “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” becomes a humorless and brave old soldier whose many war stories aren’t whoppers, after all. Heck, even the sharp-tongued Shakespearean innkeeper who lets him run a tab (Tara Fitzgerald) has been neutered.
“The King” tells a version of their story that falls somewhere between “Henry V,” most recently filmed to great and glorious effect by Kenneth Branagh, and Orson Welles’ 1960s compression of the “Henriad” plays about Hal and Falstaff, “Chimes at Midnight.”
The climactic battle draws heavily on “Chimes'” depiction of the grisly, grimy and unromantic nature of hand-to-hand combat in armor in the mud. It’s as realistic as any medievalist might want, even if the events of the battle are pure poppycock.
The only laughs in the film’s 140 minutes are provided by Robert Pattinson, the “Twilight” veteran and future Batman milking his turn as the French dauphin (prince) who taunts Henry, goads him into battle and slings a wicked French accent during his many atrocities and insults.
“Please speak English,” he teases. “I ENJOY to speak English. So…simple and…dirty!”
His trash talk-threats are the best lines in this Michôd (“Animal Kingdom,” “The Rover”) and Edgerton script.
“I ‘ave come to de-SCRIBE for you your end days,” he purrs. “ze SCREAMS of your men…I will DRAIN your blood from your body and bury you under a tree, a tiny French tree!”
Pattinson is more fun than Chalamet, and more instantly credible, I have to say. None of this pop idol mop top and chicken-chested machismo that Chalamet brings to the young king.
I love a funny French accent more than most, treasure most any period piece and revel in Medieval historical pics like this.
But “The King” is something of a tin-eared bore and a massive waste of time. It so wants to follow “Henry V,” without the grace notes of Shakespeare’s “Saint Crispin’s Day” speech and Henry’s courtship of the French princess (Lily-Rose Depp). Lacking those linguistic flourishes, the damned thing just plods along, and brings me back to my original complaint.
What the hell’s the point?
MPAA Rating: R for some strong violence, and language.
Cast: Timothée Chalomet, Robert Pattinson, Joel Edgerton, Sean Harris, Ben Mendelsohn, Tara Fitzgerald and Lily-Rose Depp.
Credits: Directed by David Michôd, script by Joel Edgerton, David Michôd. A Netflix release.
Running time: 2:20