Film Critic Jade Matlock evaluates one of Netflix’s most anticipated releases of the year, as Timothée Chalamet sharpens his sword and takes a stab at some Shakespeare

Final year English student & Film Editor.
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When The King was unveiled to the public it was met with much trepidation, and justifiably so. Shakespeare’s Henriad plays have become a staple in the English literary and theatrical repertoire and the David Michôd helmed film had the same mammoth task of many literary adaptations that came before it – maintaining the essences of the story that made them so popular while bringing something new to the table. 

we are continuously waiting for the next response, the next scene, the next action, while many of us have known the ending all along

The plot itself leaves much to be desired; it sticks relatively closely to the source material in a way that feels almost monotonous while simultaneously attempting to cater to both new receptions of the story and experienced Shakespeare readers. While this move for universality is to be expected for a platform such as Netflix, many details are left out for the sake of keeping everyone on the same page. In terms of writing, however, David Michôd and Joel Edgerton excel. Dialogue exists purely to fuel tension and maintain the fast pace of the film, foreshadowing is blatant throughout and yet the audience falls prey to it every time, clinging to their last strands of hope that the duo refuses to let them have. The narrative is constructed in such a way that we are continuously waiting for the next response, the next scene, the next action, while many of us have known the ending all along. The violence is unrelenting and seemingly endless, and yet we continue to watch in anticipation. 

[Chalamet] shines as the tortured King thrust into uncharted territory

Perhaps one of the crowning moments of the film lies in its musical score. The orchestra is utilised very much in the same way as dialogue, pushing the narrative forward and escalating the tension in particular scenes (such as the main Battle of Agincourt scene) to an almost palpable point before diminishing immediately.  The audience are given no time for closure, however. Silence is used to communicate just as much as the musical interludes, furthering the feeling of unexpectedness that we experience in key moments of the film. Even the most trivial of sounds such as the heavy breathing of soldiers and birdsong become anchors to the narrative, a quiet respite from the clashing of swords and drowning in mud that will soon follow. If there is one thing to be said about this film, it’s the breathtaking attention to sonic detail. 

Arguably what could be seen as most perplexing is the cast that Netflix lined up for this film. Upon the announcement of Timothée Chalamet (of Call Me By Your Name and Lady Bird fame) as the titular character Henry V, it was fair to say that there was some initial caution. However for a first dalliance with such a role, he exceeds both personal and critical expectations. He shines as the tortured King thrust into uncharted territory. 

Alongside him co—writer and executive producer Joel Edgerton provides much needed comical moments as the audacious Falstaff, with the uncanny ability to predict the weather with his right knee (which,  parallels beautifully with Karen Smith’s similar ability in Mean Girls). 

Pattinson thrives as a manic and unpredictable French prince dripping with egotism

But perhaps the most thought provoking addition to the cast rests with Robert Pattinson as the dastardly Dauphin. In spite of a French accent that can only truly be described as abhorrent, Pattinson thrives as a manic and unpredictable French prince dripping with egotism – a far cry from the stoic, repressive nature of Twilight’s Edward Cullen. Not only is the defeat of Dauphin the most comedic moment in an otherwise brutal and harrowing scene in the film, but lines such as ‘Please speak English, it’s so simple… and ugly,’ give him freedom to play around in a way that we rarely see from his previous work. I am left at a loss for words in an attempt to describe a casting as enigmatic as the character himself. 

While there is a disappointing lack of female dialogue, Lily Rose Depp’s fleeting moments on screen as Catherine anchor Chalamet’s Henry in the reality of his actions with as much attitude and flair as one would expect. Tara Fitzgerald’s Hooper has a similar, almost antagonistic presence for Edgerton’s Falstaff. 

Verdict  

This promising cast exceeds expectation in an otherwise standard adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic Henriad plays. While admittedly much of the Shakespearean magic was lost in this adaptation, it definitely provided audiences with newer, darker take on the classic. 

7/10

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