“The King”: a periodically masterful drama

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Photo courtesy of Netflix Studios

With almost 90% of the American population being told to stay at home for the first time in history, one can find no better time to create a new email address and get that blissful free month of Netflix. 

While wading through the marsh full of mediocre content, it can often be challenging to find something on Netflix that is original, new and worth your time. 

However, thanks to Netflix’s collaboration with writer/director David Michôd, writer/actor Joel Edgerton, and inspiration from the Henriad plays of William Shakespeare himself, such content can be found in “The King.”

In this telling of the classic tale, Henry of Monmouth (Timothée Chalamet), known now as King Henry V of England, spent his princely days in rebellious delight among the people, drinking, singing and enjoying all sorts of unseemly behavior. 

However, after the deaths of his father, King Henry IV of England (Ben Mendelsohn), and his little brother, Thomas of Lancaster (Dean-Charles Chapman), to whom the throne was supposed to fall to, Henry of Monmouth had no choice but to ascend to the throne at the age of 26. 

The first matter the newly coronated King Henry V of England took upon himself to address was to end the civil wars and unrest that had so thoroughly roiled his kingdom, as he was determined to show the world that he was not the petty and impetuous man that he had seen his father to be. 

Bent on establishing a lasting peace for his country, Henry V sought to end hostile foreign relations with European nations. However, after several offenses perpetrated against the English crown by the French, including an assassination attempt, Henry V felt forced to keep the peace by going to war against France. 

Outnumbered, underequipped and inexperienced, Henry V invaded France. After a victory with the siege of Harfleur, Henry V found himself up against the entire might of the French military, led by Dauphin Charles d’Albret (Robert Pattinson). 

The greatest strengths of “The King” lie in the ability of its actors, some stunning sequences and the content of the film’s source material. 

Though the film takes some liberty with historical facts, “The King” remains a largely accurate telling of some of the most amazing military and political events in history. In this respect, “The King” provides some of the thrill and intrigue of the best episodes of “Game of Thrones,” with the added satisfaction of knowing that the events portrayed on-screen are, more or less, real. 

Chalamet, Mendelsohn, Pattinson and Edgerton provide some of the best aspects of the film through their ability to capture audiences’ attention and emotions consistently throughout the potentially exhausting runtime of nearly two-and-a-half hours.

Chalamet and Edgerton, as Henry’s close friend Sir Falstaff, particularly present a source of intrigue and emotional involvement with their characters’ entertaining and touching relationship. Chalamet portrays Henry V as a careful, considerate and willful young man needing the guidance, constancy and paternal connection from Edgerton’s Falstaff. 

Additionally, the cinematography and sequence design of several parts of the film can only be described as masterful. Cinematographer Adam Arkapaw and production designer Fiona Crombie work to create a film filled with first-rate moments. Whenever this film’s script allows for a dramatic, stunning, revealing or visceral moment, Crombie, Arkapaw, the actors and Michôd’s direction all come together to make it nearly unforgettable. 

However, between all of these masterful and unforgettable moments lie notable weaknesses in “The King.” The inconsistent script leads to an occasional jumble for the viewer. The film takes a while to get going in the first act, spinning its wheels for about 15 minutes before the audience really starts to care about anything being shown. For a movie titled “The King,” it certainly does take a while to actually get to him. 

Much of this weakness in the script is easily explained away by the film attempting to be as historically accurate as possible, as history is not always conducive to creating a cohesive narrative. Nevertheless, it detracts from the experience of the casual viewer. 

At times, given the immense highs of the moments of mastery versus long lulls that often seem like historical filler, “The King” can feel like it was meant to be a miniseries but then was compacted into a lengthy film. 

Despite the easily forgivable problems of this film’s script, the positive elements of “The King” vastly outweigh the negative. 

The impeccable acting, top-notch cinematography, direction and production design— combined with the immense grandeur of the source material—all make this Netflix flick well worth one of your otherwise squandered quarantined evenings.

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