Directed by David Michôd
Starring Timothée Chalamet, Joel Edgerton, Robert Pattinson
Make no mistake: Casting Timothée Chalamet as the wastrel prince-turned-Warrior King Henry V in Netflix’s The King is a genius move. On purely pop cultural terms, having Timothée Chalamet headline a story about ascendant royalty feels like a statement, an affirmation that the doe-eyed, wild-maned star who took the world by storm two years ago in Call Me by Your Name is claiming a throne of his own.
More on Netflix:
- Review: ‘The Laundromat’ is proof Meryl Streep has her off days too
- Review: ‘Mindhunter Season 2’ is a lot of talk but its artistic choices make it highly watchable
- Review: ‘The Politician’ is your staple Ryan Murphy spectacle, with improbable plot twists
- Review: ‘Stranger Things 3’ is sure-footed, streamlined, and still chock-full of 80s nostalgia
But what kept coming to mind, as I watched Chalamet evolve from good-for-nothing gadabout Hal in the seamy streets of Eastcheap to lanky king-to-be Henry in the cold chambers of Westminster, was Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth. Even though Henry V and Elizabeth I reigned more than a century apart, both were regarded as feckless newbies, both had a court actively plotting against them, and both had to prove their mettle against the French. And in the case of co-writer/director David Michôd’s fairly straightforward interpretation of the 13th-century monarch’s rise in The King, the wait-and-see attitude among the lords and bishops populating the English court feels particularly pronounced: Can someone with such delicate bone structure actually lead a nation and emerge victorious in war?
The good news is that Chalamet’s portrayal is robust. Michôd and co-writer Joel Edgerton—who does double duty as Hal’s bearded confidant and surrogate father John Falstaff—help the star along by bestowing upon this Henry an independent streak borne of his contentious relationship with the divisive father (Ben Mendelsohn) he replaced. Gone is Shakespeare’s dense language. In its stead, plain-spoken plot machinations that will, for better or worse, for the foreseeable future, summon the scheming of Game of Thrones. But more than his talent as an actor or the undeniability of his presence, Chalamet wisely leans into the immediate fact that he just doesn’t look like he belongs. The brawny Edgerton and the squirrelly Sean Harris, who plays one of Henry’s closest allies in court, look very at home in the grimy, pustule-ridden Middle Ages; Chalamet seems like a fey, otherworldly presence who somehow manages to look even younger once he assumes Henry V’s famous bowl cut—and his alienation is precisely the point.
The French are sending rumblings of war thrumming across the English Channel. And if Chalamet’s spindly frame looks a tad unconvincing leading a phalanx of chainmailed soldiers across the muddy fields of Agincourt, The King deploys another secret weapon in Robert Pattinson as the Dauphin, dropping his h’s and swiping the blonde locks from his face, entertaining with his outsize accent and righting the balance. And around both actors—matinee idols cut from 21st-century cloth—the drama darkens and deepens. There is even a final twist, a conspiracy theory revolving around the casus belli of Henry V’s campaign against France, that feels like the ultimate turn of the knife in the young king’s harrowing coming of age. The King is engrossing period drama, and if it weren’t for the historical fact that Henry V had a woefully short reign, I would be hankering for a sequel.
Photographs from Netflix