Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Joel Edgerton, Ben Mendelsohn
Director: David Michôd
Running Time: 140 mins
The King is an Australian/American film about the rise of King Henry V of England, from reluctant heir disillusioned with the fractured state of his country to one of history’s greatest leaders, navigating the difficulties of politics, international rivalry and more as he established himself firmly upon the throne.
The story of Henry V is well-known across the world thanks to Shakespeare’s play, but there hasn’t ever been a standout film to bring the story to attention on the big screen. The King, however, goes a long way to putting that right, and while it’s not quite the rousing, epic drama that it often promises to be, it does hit home with a hugely impressive visual spectacle, as well as great political intrigue, strong performances and very well-balanced directing and dialogue that keep what some may fear as an inaccessible watch as anything but.
We’ll start on that very point, because while the drama and significance of this story is absolutely undeniable, a near two and a half hour-long period epic based on a Shakespearean play is the sort of daunting prospect that can turn many away.
However, The King is without a doubt one of the best and most accessible period dramas I’ve seen in a long time, with a brilliantly grounded portrayal of the Middle Ages, retaining the grit and intensity that so many other period dramas miss out on.
And on top of that, if you fear Shakespearean dialogue as unintelligible gibberish (the striking but confusing Macbeth adaptation is proof of that very problem), The King stays away from being a full Shakespearean reboot, with dialogue that, while maintaining the austere, elegant nature of the bard’s work, is entirely accessible and understandable to modern ears, a really difficult balance to strike that’s achieved brilliantly here.
So, there’s no need to be daunted by The King, and while it isn’t always a legendary watch, it uses its fantastic production and costume design to great effect, with a vivid but appropriate portrayal of the Middle Ages, while also ensuring that it doesn’t get led astray by antequated dialogue that can throw so many people off.
Not only that, though, the film features a fantastic blend between big, Hollywood-esque action and more stylised, theatrical drama. It’s not the intimate character study of Henry V as you might expect, but it does have a great balance between those moments of striking drama and more entertaining, spectacular action sequences throughout.
Saying that, the film’s middle portion is a little long-winded, and while things do get off to a good start earlier on with great political intrigue and action, The King gets a little too caught up halfway through in more mellow and unfortunately less interesting drama. It rectifies that with a spectacular finale that gives one of the most dynamic and exciting portrayals of pitched battle warfare I’ve ever seen on film, but despite that strong action-drama balance, the film isn’t entirely perfect throughout.
And finally, a word on the performances, which are pretty strong across the board. Timothée Chalamet gives it his all in a role that’s both dramatically and physically demanding, and although he doesn’t quite perfectly embody the legendary leader figure that the film presents Henry V as, he still gives an exciting and emotionally engaging performance, backed up by striking supporting turns from Joel Edgerton and Sean Harris in particular, bringing home some great drama throughout the movie.
Overall, I rather liked The King. It’s not a perfect movie, and given the legendary status of Shakespeare’s play and the history itself, there is absolutely more that it could have done to be a properly rousing epic of a film. Saying that, with a brilliantly accessible take on a story that could have been much harder to follow, as well as striking a good balance between action and drama, there’s a lot to like about The King, and it’s far from the daunting Shakesperean epic that might at first put you off, which is why I’m giving it a 7.5.