For someone who loves history, I'm not really a big fan of historical dramas. I get too hung up on the accuracy, clothing and the accents. I do have a tendency to be a bit of an historical-movie fun sponge, which I readily admit.
But there was something about the trailer for The King on Netflix that I couldn't resist.
The film, directed by David Michôd, was released at the Venice Film Festival in 2019, and added to Netflix soon after. The plot loosely takes the route of Shakespeare's portrayal of the young Henry V, through the rocky relationship with his father, the debauchery of his early adulthood with Sir John Falstaff and his eventual victory at Agincourt.
|The King. Image Credit: Netflix PR. Used with permission. |
There are a few differences though, and the makers of The King have chosen to stir things up a little bit.
Sir John Falstaff (played by Joel Edgerton), far from the traditionally comic, bawdy and cowardly knight of Shakespeare's stage, is portrayed here as world-weary and fun-loving but also thoughtful, caring, cunning and brave.
Timothèe Chalamet's Henry has also had a makeover. He is far less swashbuckling than the Henry played by the likes of Tom Hiddleston in The Hollow Crown. This Henry is predominantly brooding, quiet and thoughtful. Throughout the film, he is reluctant to unnecessarily spill the blood of his - and the opposing - armies in battle. Of all the actors I've seen portray Henry V, Chalamet captures a vulnerability in him that's easier for us to relate to but, it's been argued, probably wasn't historically accurate. However, we get a front row seat to the pressures he was under as a new king, and we see him mature over the two hours and twenty minutes he's on our screens. Some scenes do show Henry's brutal side, which is factually preserved in the historical record. Whether the real Henry had this vulnerable side, we'll never really know, but it makes for gripping viewing, nonetheless.
|Robert Pattinson as The Dauphin Louis. Image Credit: Netflix PR. With permission. |
While we're on the subject of accuracy, we might as well get it out there: no, everything isn't totally accurate, but for a drama like this - especially one loosely based on Shakespeare's plays - you wouldn't expect it to be. I loved the scene where Henry is preparing to depart from Southampton to set sail for France, and the quashing of the Cambridge Plot outside the town walls. Some scenes are spoken in French (with subtitles, so don't panic). It's hard to take your eyes off the screen once the battle scenes start, English soldiers clunking their way across the field in a synchronised march and taking up positions for combat. It sends a chill down your spine, and - although I'm no military expert - you do feel as if you're going back in time and peeking out between tree branches at one of history's most well-known battles. The bloodiness and chaos is also there, with plenty of stabbing, wrestling, firing of longbows and heads being trodden into wet, squelchy mud. The Dauphin of France's character is played entirely brilliantly by Robert Pattinson but again isn't historically accurate and the real Dauphin wasn't at Agincourt. You'll probably spot a few more inaccuracies along the way (I don't want to give any spoilers here). My advice on all this? Enjoy the film for what it is, don't be a fun sponge.
This is a new and different portrayal of Henry, and the characters that influenced him at the time he became King. It's gripping, exciting and atmospheric. For two hours you're transported to the early years of the fifteenth-century with all the clanking of armour, wood-panelled halls and French villages. And whether or not Henry's vulnerable side really existed, it'll make you question what he was really like. Here, he's a young adult who doesn't constantly speak with a rousing, roaring, theatrical accent, which for me at least, makes him feel even more real. I actually want to find out more about Henry now.
This is basically my new favourite historical film.
See it now on Netflix.