DIRECTOR: DAVID MICHÔD | SCREENPLAY: JOEL EDGERTON, DAVID MICHÔD | STARRING: ROBERT PATTINSON, TIMOTHÉE CHALAMET, LILY-ROSE DEPP | RELEASE DATE: NOVEMBER 1ST (VIA NETFLIX)
Loosely adapted from William Shakespeare’s Henriad, Netflix’s The King charts the rise to power and early reign of King Henry V, or Hal (Chalamet) as he navigates political intrigue, international relations and inevitably, war.
No doubt that comparisons will be drawn between The King and last year’s Outlaw King, which will only be to the detriment of the former; though far from a masterpiece, Outlaw King was at the very least entertaining. That is not the case for David Michôd’s latest feature, which takes itself far too seriously for a film which has little to say.
This self-seriousness permeates through every element of The King, from the slow pace to the grey, “this is very sombre film about deep things” colour palette. Even Chalamet, a clearly charismatic and talented actor, struggles to find anything in the screenplay that might help nuance a one-note performance of furrowed brows and grimaces. Though its generous production budget gives the Middle Ages setting a level of credibility and atmosphere, it nonetheless fails to demonstrate any more personality than a museum reconstruction.
Everything about The King is so very flat, from the plot to the cinematography, to the characterisation and score. It lacks anything that might keep you engaged, and every supposed ‘twist’ (doesn’t a twist have to be unpredictable?) feels monotonous. It’s perfectly watchable, certainly, but it feels like a checklist period piece no one will remember.
Then, in bursts Robert Pattinson as France’s Dauphin, a breath of fresh air with a hilariously thick French accent and great delivery of penis jokes. Though absolutely out of sync with the rest of the film, his couple of brief appearances only emphasise how suffocating The King feels. Maybe he just walked in from an alternate universe where this film is enjoyable.
What’s most frustrating is that this story had the potential to say something new about current politics – the idea that Hal craves peace, yet is denied it because of his father’s legacy and his surviving advisers, or the difficulty of meaningful change in a world where pacifism means weakness, could have made for interesting commentary. Sadly for all involved, the film seems to equate Hal going to war as him growing into his own as a leader and finding his purpose. Nothing interesting to see here, then.
As for the surrounding cast, performances from Joel Edgerton, Sean Harris, and Lily-Rose Depp occasionally infuse scenes with a shadow of personality – in particular Edgerton during the first hour of the film, after which he exists only as Hal’s moral compass and wise strategist.
The King is a 140-minute self-serious slog with decent set pieces, a great slate of actors playing poorly written characters, and possessing little to fill an empty shell of a screenplay.