Tonally confused and accidentally hilarious, David Michôd’s big-budget Medieval caper The King is an unbelievably silly film – and only half the cast seem to be aware of it. Starring Timothée Chalamet as King Henry V and Joel Edgerton as Falstaff, we follow King Henry/Prince Hal as he goes from binge-drinking to the battlefield, navigating seedy advisors and French assassins up to the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.
When we first see young Prince Hal he’s stumbling about looking like a drunken Severus Snape, having sex with nameless women and cavorting about the streets with his trusty pal Falstaff. Preferring to sleep all day and drink all night (yes please), Hal isn’t best pleased by his newfound place on the throne – he’s edgy, grouchy, unwashed, sensual. Going from this wayward Hal to the King Henry we see at the end, brave and bruised and muddy, is a rather murky journey, and not one that really allows for nuance despite the film’s generous 2h15 runtime. Though Chalamet isn’t likely to set as many hearts a-fluttering as he did in Call Me By Your Name – here a deadpan posh boy with a seriously dodgy trim – as Prince Hal he has a commanding presence and more potential than the lacklustre plot and dialogue has afforded him, and sadly, he seems to be taking it all a bit too seriously. Had the rest of the cast dutifully adhered to a coherent dramatic vision his performance may have worked, but surrounded by laughably rendered characters such as his brother Thomas (Dean-Charles Chapman, who looked and acted like he was on the set of CBBC’s Raven) and Prince Dauphin (an unthinkably silly and hilarious turn by Robert Pattinson), Chalamet comes across as a little over-earnest and stiff.
Pattinson, in barely three scenes, steals the show as a hilariously muggy French prince. Hamming up his (actually rather accurate) French accent and just basically being outrageous (telling Timothée Chalamet he had huge balls and a tiny cock, for one) had the audience in complete stitches, with his slapstick comedy and obvious I’m-not-taking-this-seriously approach clashing violently with Chalamet’s poise. I’m not an expert on Shakespeare’s Henriad, but research has suggested that the plot of The King involved a lot of borrowing, rearranging and condensing from the original source material; this meant that we didn’t really fully understand the motivations for a lot of the characters’ actions, with various parts of the plot either over- or under-explained.
Various elements, from script to score, also fell a little short for me. Nicholas Britell’s atmospheric score was overused, and the suffocating amount of constant background music meant that characters struggled to breathe or make their own impact. The modern-but-not-modern script also felt a little claggy in the actors’ mouths: possessing such a jumbled mix of varyingly modernised vernacular interrupted the flow, and Chalamet going from lots of “thus” and “prithees” to “I’M SICK OF THIS FUCKING CHARADE” resulted in a lot of audience laughs. In fact, the audience barely stopped laughing, whether it was at the lisping priest or at the end when King Henry, in what I presume was meant to be some lofty shocking dramatic moment, stabs William Gascoigne atop the head. There’s also a bizarre moment where Falstaff momentarily becomes Karen from Mean Girls, stating that his “kneecap can tell when it’s about to rain.” Cool.
The film mostly looks fine, yet the culminative and rather anti-climactic battle scene seemed suspiciously influenced, directorially-speaking, by Miguel Sapochnik’s ‘Battle of the Bastards’ from Game of Thrones’ sixth season with almost shot-for-shot similarities of claustrophobic birds-eye angles – though Falstaff certainly is no Jon Snow when it comes to the battlefield. Reader, I still have no idea what on earth David Michôd truly intended the tone of this film to be – but, either way, it was a lot of bemusing fun.
The King will be released in the UK on 11th October 11, before digital streaming on November 1, 2019, by Netflix.
Words by Steph Green