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‘If it rains tonight, we fight tomorrow,” declares Timothée Chalamet, huddled with his fellow actors in the final act of The King, David Michôd’s sombre, bruising adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henriad. Chalamet, the limpid star of Beautiful Boy and Call Me By Your Name, is playing Henry V. (It’s a role he inherited from Kenneth Branagh, who inherited it from Laurence Olivier – who presumably inherited it from Henry himself.) Tomorrow it’s Agincourt, a do-or-die struggle. No one wants to be the king who leads England to defeat, just as no one wants to be the lead actor whose presence derails a movie.
All the same, one watches Chalamet’s performance here with a simmering unease, willing him on but wondering if he is entirely fit for the task. The courtiers are wondering the same about Henry. Nobody, it seems, wants fey, feckless Prince Hal to ascend to the throne – least of all his own dying father – but so it comes to pass; now the archbishop is angling for an invasion of France and the nobles are plotting behind the king’s back. Henry immediately discovers that it’s lonely at the top. The only man he can trust is boozy, boorish John Falstaff, who is played with a mild case of the Brian Blesseds by Joel Edgerton, the film’s co-writer.
At least Edgerton looks at home amid a rogues’ gallery of grunters and brawlers. Chalamet never does. This is partly the point – Henry is intended to be seen as a black sheep, by turns callow and sullen and enlightened and smart – but Chalamet’s air of poetic self-regard seems to have been imported from a more recent century (this century, for instance). Moreover, one gawps at the way the film has him leading the charge, hacking and slashing a path through armoured foes twice his size. It’s only near the end that he find a spiritual cousin of sorts in Robert Pattinson’s pouting French dauphin, who is constantly pushing his blond locks from his face.
Thankfully, having begun as a careful, over-studied attempt to make a naturalistic period picture (guttering candles; the occasional pustule), The King deepens and darkens, and gathers momentum, to the point where one finally becomes drawn into the drama. The monarchy is a scam and the war on France is built on a false prospectus. Nonetheless, the young king must now prove his mettle. Falstaff has a plan that involves drawing the enemy into the mud and then relying on the accuracy of the English longbows. And at the risk of dropping a spoiler, this is a plan that just might work.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: The King review – rogues’ gallery of grunters and brawlers | Film