'The King' Review | BFI London Film Festival 2019
Updated: Nov 7, 2021
David Michôd's new film The King is receiving less than favorable reviews, and while I can see where some of the critiques are coming from I don't think any two-star reviews are actually warranted. Granted, older and more experienced critics probably have a far more refined taste, but I had a great deal of fun watching The King, not least because of a phenomenal performance from its leading actor.
Timothee Chalamet continues to present astounding versatility as an actor, with him donning an almost faultless English accent along with his cape and crown. His character 'Hal' (that's King Henry V to you) is very much a 'Jon Snow' figure, both in his broody nature and in his dire circumstances. 'Hal' finds himself almost completely powerless in a time of great tension between Britain and France, and much of the film follows Chalamet as a character who, much like 'Snow', plays a reactionary role rather than an influential one.
Of course, many would be affronted at my comparison of (what is essentially) a Shakespeare adaptation to HBO's own Game of Thrones, but the epic fantasy series did provide inspiration for the film. For one, Dean-Charles Chapman returns to his GoT roots by taking on the role of Thomas, another boy-king who, much like Tommen Lannister, seems a tad too small for his armour. The final battle sequence in the film is also a very compelling, cinematic response to GoT's (now legendary) 'Battle of the Bastards', with multiple shots seemingly taken directly from the Bolton-Stark war.
When questioned by 'Entertainment Weekly' about any 'homage', Michôd suggested that the series didn't directly inspire his direction of The King's final battle. "Weirdly, I am that person who has not watched [a lot of] Game of Thrones. I weirdly put myself through the bizarre experience of watching the final episode. Having said that, I did watch 'The Battle of the Bastards' really early on when I was way deep in pre-production - when we were trying to work out how to achieve [our] battle. We were actually thinking specifically about visual effects. So, I can’t claim not to have seen 'The Battle of the Bastards,' but I can claim, in all honesty, to have had no idea that I was basically ripping that shot off."
It's curious to me as to how you can watch a shot, copy it and then suggest you had no idea you were doing so...but I'll take his word for it. Regardless, much of the film captures what I loved so much about Game of Thrones, what made it special in its glory days; well-written political intrigue, brilliantly crafted battle sequences and compelling performances from the lead actors.
Ben Mendelsohn has a small role as Henry IV, but his performance was so trans-formative that I didn't even realize it was him until the end-credits rolled. Mission Impossible's Sean Harris is slimy as ever in the role of Gascoigne, and Joel Edgerton, who plays 'Falstaff', offers great depth to a new take on Shakespeare's beloved comic character.
The film itself wouldn't exist without Edgerton, who came to Michôd with his idea of adapting Shakespeare's 'Henriad' back in 2013. The actor co-wrote the script with Michôd too, and in many ways it's as much Edgerton's film as it is the director's. Here, Falstaff is less of a jolly so-and-so and more of a deflated figure, an ex-military man who's scarred by the battle field and who's only joy comes through reaching the bottom of a tankard. It's been a controversial take on the character, but one that I found to be successful, and I think Edgerton plays one of the most engaging characters in the film.
My biggest issue with The King comes in Robert Pattinson's depiction of the French Dauphin. Pattinson is meant to be the film's greatest antagonist, but his characterization feels more suited to an episode of Horrible Histories than this Shakespearian, Game of Thrones-style epic. The character is goofy, shallow, under-written and totally out of place in the film - distractingly so.
It's odd, because Pattinson is actually a very talented actor, so I can only assume that Michôd's direction is here at fault. Regardless, in the words of Shakespeare himself "what's done is done", and the French Prince is an indefensible character. Thankfully, Lily-Rose Depp gives a much better performance as the French Princess, and makes a good impression despite her minuscule screen-time.
All in all, The King was a lot of fun for me to watch. I think the best way to view it is on the big screen - some of the shots here are magnificent - but its imminent release on Netflix means that more people will hopefully decide to check this war film out. Fans of Game of Thrones should expect it to scratch an itch left unchecked by the show's final series, and while fans of Shakespeare may find the liberties Michôd has taken with the source material to be distracting, it's still the best translation of his work from text to screen since 2015's Macbeth.
Written by James Green