Timothée Chalamet’s army of fans will no doubt be disappointed to see their idol’s misstep in David Michod’s tepid take on the coming-of-age of Henry V in The King.
This Netflix production, long in gestation from Michod in collaboration with Joel Edgerton, had looked likely to cement Chalamet’s rising star but instead presses pause on his ascendency to the throne.
It is the early fifteenth century and Hal, the eldest son of reigning King Henry IV, is living estranged from his father, enjoying life in the gutter. He whiles away his hours frolicking with “whores”, keeping a healthy distance from the Monarchy whilst chewing the cud with his confidant and mentor, the ageing alcoholic knight, John Falstaff (Edgerton).
Rather reluctantly, Hal acquiesces to a summons from his father and finds a man riven with disease, facing his last days. Yet the enmity between the two does not waver, culminating in a matter-of-fact declaration that Hal’s younger brother Thomas will inherit the throne instead of Hal.
After their father’s passing, Hal tries to dissuade Thomas from inheriting their father’s vendettas. “These feuds need not be yours,” he pleads. This meets deaf ears, which only compels Hal to undertake an act to undermine Thomas’s authority. Hal quickly learns that the best intentions are akin to pissing in the wind when it comes to the cunning opportunism and avarice of human nature.
Unusually for this otherwise dextrous and captivating actor, Chalamet is out of his depth here. His performance is as clunky as his battlefield amour and as one-note as a bugle with a bunch of moss shoved down the hole. The role of Henry V (which has a narrative arc not dissimilar to that of Michael Corleone in The Godfather) takes a callow, passive soul and flings him into the pit of conflict; he emerges with bloodlust, intoxicated by absolute power. Perhaps Chalamet is miscast. So brilliant in the likes of Beautiful Boy, he here fails to nail the nuance required to execute this development.
Robert Pattinson, whose post-Twilight career has seen a stream of shrewd project choices establish him quite rightly as one of Britain’s most dependable young acting exports, chews up the scenery as The Dauphin of France. Although you cannot be entirely certain, it would appear that his French accent is played almost entirely for laughs as he rasps his way around vowels and consonants. As funny as this may be, it’s out of place in a film that takes itself very seriously indeed.
For all of its swashbuckling conflict and dank, dingy atmosphere, The King is like a mid-table BBC drama or a subpar episode of The Last Kingdom, stuffed with furry cloaks, pointy hats, clipped conversation and impending violence. There is no real emotional hook for the audience despite a healthy runtime in which to establish the characters.
Edgerton’s John Falstaff is the one triumph, performance-wise, in a film loaded with cliché that, despite its innovations, struggles to step out of the shadow of Shakespeare’s famous play. The surprisingly gripping denouement saves this formulaic flick from being an absolute flash-fried turkey. To adopt Aussie tunesmith Courtney Barnett’s words: this is pedestrian at best.
The King is released on November 1