The King (2019)


Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB

//, 2019, , , , , Screenplay by , Cinematography by .   Produced by Joel Edgerton, , , David Michôd, , Music by Production Design by Costume Design by Film Editing by

The dramatic events that Shakespeare covered in his plays on Henry IV and V are given the Braveheart treatment in this entertaining and intelligent film by David Michod.  He takes the family dynamics that made his Animal Kingdom so exciting and puts them back in the fifteenth century as the elder King (Ben Mendlesohn) languishes in madness-inducing illness while his young son, called Hal by his friends (and played by Timothee Chalamet) enjoys a life of wenching and boozing and shirking his duties as the future monarch of England.  When his father dies and his brother’s succession is no longer a factor, the newly minted Henry V goes from youthful recklessness to sober and studied monarch; what was aimless cynicism about ruling his country has now become a marked ambition to end his father’s endless battles and take his country to a higher plane of civilization, leaving his old friends (notably his jolly wingman Falstaff, played by Michod’s co-screenwriter Joel Edgerton) behind in the process.  Henry believes he can achieve peace through means other than constantly invading other countries, but when the king of France sends him an insult he cannot ignore, he sees the conquering of his neighbour across the channel as the only proper way to move forward.  Michod’s not adhering either to Shakespeare’s dialogue or plotting will be disappointing to anyone expecting to see the classic play with an Alexander Nevsky battle upgrade, but what he provides in its stead is something that, while not a theatrical masterpiece, is intelligent and absorbing on its own; watching the young monarch mature as he considers his next move brings up thoughtful themes, examining the very nature of peace as either the absence of war or the result of it, and asking us if we really have the guts to live in harmony with our neighbours if it means trusting them.  The entire cast turns in strong performances, Chalamet handles the lead effortlessly despite being too modern-looking for the film’s visual palette and physically too flinty to really carry off the strength we associate with past portrayals of the character, while Edgerton never overplays the one character that has traditionally been impossible to avoid overplaying for hundreds of years.  has two scenes in the film’s conclusion as our hero’s future queen Katherine and, in her few moments on screen, manages to throw a dramatic punch with her laser-sharp performance that delivers an exciting and devastating conclusion.

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