As I sit here watching The King for a third or fourth time, I ponder the many ways a biopic such as this must be measured. There are, of course, the usual concerns (lighting, sound, acting, direction, etc) as well as accuracy (character, wardrobe, speech) and the relevance (or ability to connect) to modern audiences. For a less thorough review, please listen to the podcast.
Overall Score — 8/10
Technical — 9/10
Wardrobe, Hair, and Makeup are as time-accurate as they come. 10/10
Lighting is done organically. Generally this would be a positive, but due to the time period, it can cause a dark and dreary feeling to scenes that otherwise might be light. 7/10
The light scoring and foley in this film work wonderfully well. 10/10
Acting and direction fall short in only a few places. Overall, the performances are compelling. 9/10
Unfortunately, accuracy of character falls terribly short from what I can glean by research. In this film, we are presented a war-shy Hal despite history showing Henry V as one of England’s greatest warrior kings. Even Shakespeare’s accounting holds a much more fiery tempered king. 3/10
The King toes a fine line between its Shakespearean inspiration and the true speech of the time. The drop of theatricality actually does the film justice because it is easier for the general public to understand and connect to. 9/10
Story — 8/10
The King picks up at the end of a battle led by Percy Hotspur. He drily tells a man that he’s crawling toward England, not Scotland, before resignedly executing him. It then cuts to a dining table and disastrous conversation between Percy and King Henry IV. Hotspur in this scene is passionate with barely concealed rage while Henry is dotty and detached from reality. From there, we shift to Timothée Chalamet’s Hal being woken up by his comrades so that he can cauterize a wound. Once done, they begin another day of sloven drunkenness. Soon after exiting their inn the next day, Hal is called to the throne room only to be told he will not ascend to the throne and that his brother is going to battle against Percy.
Hal shows up, unwanted, at the would-be battlefield and offers a one-on-one duel between himself and Hotspur instead. This is the first chance we get to see the film’s fight choreography at work, and it does not disappoint. The fighting is dirty, gritty, and realistic but no less exciting than the laughable theatricality of some other films’ swordplay. The aftermath shows Hal haunted and desperate to forget. It is here that the story truly begins.
Sean Harris’s William shows up to kick everyone out of the inn and inform Hal (in a rather roundabout way) that his brother has died and he must now ascend to the throne after all. Hal has hardly a choice at that point and heads for his father’s bedside, raging because his soul’s sacrifice was in vain. It is at this point that accuracy begins to get a little blurry compared to real life accounts as well as the Shakespearean plays the film is mostly based on.
Gone are the chin length, unruly curls, and in their place a reverent, historically accurate haircut that denotes his adopted sobriety as well as his dedication to Christendom. Little is made of the coronation itself, though we do get to see Timothée’s lean muscled chest. Following is a short scene of coronation gifts and the following fallout of the Dauphin’s mocking gift.
Hal mocks the Arch Bishop’s plots to take over France and Jerusalem. William commends Hal’s restraint but delivers my favourite quote from this movie and, indeed, possibly of 2019, “This mood is a fantasy, but that does not mean it is not felt true.”
Joel Edgerton’s Falstaff maintains the humour of Shakespeare’s but hints at depths greater than that of the Bard’s imaginings as he attempts to regain a room at the inn where Hal stayed at the beginning of the film.
A French assassin sets off a chain reaction that leads to Sir John Falstaff joining the royal court as confidant to the king and war advisor. The scenes leading to this are unexpectedly tender. Edgerton delivers the line, “One is never ready for what awaits us,” with a levity that belies its poignance.
Just as a debate regarding how best to take control of an important outpost rounds off, the castle surrenders. War shall not be had at this juncture. Shortly, the Dauphin approaches, seeking counsel with Hal. When he arrives, we are greeted by a mocking French Robert Pattinson (whose accent falls short only on a couple of words/short phrases). The English army takes leave at once.
The Dauphin follows to kill one of the pages and terrorize another by forcing him to carry the head of the dead boy to Hal’s feet. This spurs Hal to order the execution of every French prisoner–which Falstaff refuses to carry out, giving instead a speech about needless bloodshed. Upon reaching a hill, Falstaff speaks again–this time to predict the weather and recommend a strategy of false advance and unarmoured attack. This strategy proves both his doom and the country’s triumph. France proposes a treaty by marriage, and William is proven to be the mastermind behind a slew of treasonous machinations.