The King is a handsome period piece featuring a strong turn from Timothée Chalamet, but ultimately feels like less than the sum of its parts.
Netflix has a bevy of projects looking to make waves this awards season, with The King marking their latest offering. Based on a collection of William Shakespeare's plays, the historical drama played at multiple film festivals this fall prior to its limited theatrical release back in October. It is now available to stream on Netflix, meaning most cinephiles finally have the opportunity to see if director David Michôd's work is a worthy contender as the Oscar race heats up. Despite some bright spots, it doesn't quite get there. The King is a handsome period piece featuring a strong turn from Timothée Chalamet, but ultimately feels like less than the sum of its parts.
In The King, Chalamet stars as Hal, oldest son of England's King Henry IV (Ben Mendelsohn). Opposed to his father's stance on war, Hal chooses to live far away from his family, instead spending time with his friend John Falstaff (Joel Edgerton). But when tragedy strikes and Henry IV dies from illness, Hal is thrust into a role he never wanted, becoming King Henry V. As England's new ruler, Hal looks to usher in an era of peace for its people, but rising tensions with the French force Hal to make some difficult decisions that will define what kind of leader he is, and what will become of England.
Under Michôd's direction, The King boasts tremendous visuals that transport viewers back to the early 15th century. Fiona Crombie's production design, Jane Petrie's costumes, and Adam Arkapaw's cinematography (among other aspects) are all top-notch and give The King very cinematic qualities. Even though many people will see the film on the small screen (be it their television or a mobile device), The King would be worth seeking out in a theater if there are screenings still available so viewers can get a deeper appreciation of the craftsmanship that went into the project. For any faults the movie might have, it's always incredible to look at, capturing the proper feel and essence that's so closely associated with this genre.
But speaking of those faults, The King is not necessarily the most engaging watch from an emotional perspective. At nearly 2.5 hours, the film can feel its length and drags at times. Structurally, the story written by Michôd and Edgerton takes a little while to get going, though it does explore some interesting thematic material about the nature of war and what it accomplishes. The questions The King poses provide good food for thought, but at the same time the film keeps the viewer at an arm's length. It's almost serious to a fault, risking with becoming a bit lifeless for stretches. This sadly prevents the battle sequences from landing with the intended emotional impact; however, Michôd does a good job staging the set pieces on a technical level and demonstrates a keen eye for action.
In terms of performances, Oscar-nominee Chalamet carries The King on his shoulders with an impressive turn as a reluctant leader. Hal might be lacking in onscreen charisma, but that fits into the character, and Chalamet's acting here is understated and effective. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for all members of the supporting cast, as most of the actors do solid work that more or less just gets the job done. Edgerton's Falstaff gets a couple moments to shine (and he's responsible for some much-needed levity early on), but there are also periods where it feels as if the film's forgotten about the character. It's Robert Pattinson who injects some energy into the proceedings as The Dauphin of France, gleefully chewing scenery with an over-the-top accent. It's an approach that won't work for everyone, but it's definitely one of the most memorable elements of The King.
Understandably so, The King isn't generating as much Oscar buzz as some of Netflix's other titles that'll be streaming later this fall and winter, but it's still an admirable effort. With a tighter screenplay and some better pacing, The King could have been a very strong film, rather than one that's merely good (not that there's anything wrong with that distinction). As such, it isn't exactly a must-see this fall, with everything else that's on the horizon, but those fond of historical epics probably wouldn't mind setting aside a day to stream this one at home.
The King is now streaming on Netflix. It runs 140 minutes and is rated R for some strong violence, and language.
- The King (2019) release date: Nov 01, 2019