Timothée Chalamet is Our King in Netflix’s New Film
By Kala Herh
The term “king” often evokes an image of a man in a position of power. Someone who's ascended to the throne after years of royal grooming and combat training. King Henry V, played by the current golden boy Timothée Chalamet, defies this preconception. Before rising to power, prince Hal was, for lack of better words, a 15th-century bad boy who slept and drank his way around Eastcheap.
It is only when Hal’s father, Ben Mendelsohn (who magnetically graces the screen for a brief time) dies, that Hal assumes his kingly responsibilities. Unlike his father, who seeks to conquer Scotland and Wales, Hal believes that war is a waste. Chalamet, in his equally fast ascent to the high ranks of Hollywood, is a master at flitting between devastation and euphoria with complete ease. He enhances Henry’s rough stoicism resonates more than the fighting on the battlefield. Chalamet’s nuances — trembling hands, darting eyes, and curling of the lip — impeccably illustrate a young boy grappling with the responsibilities of a whole country. There is a quiet power in Chalamet’s performance.
“The King” is an intimate royal-court pageant movie. Directed by David Michôd (“Animal Kingdom”) and written by Joel Edgerton, the pair set out to redefine Shakespeare’s iconic play, “Henriad.” The film recognizes royalty as a conceit, but ultimately of tragedy. It is the worst kind of tragedy that sneaks up to you when it finds the most opportune and unexpected time. After all, Chalamet’s Hal is, as one character puts it, a “young, vain, foolish boy. So easily riled. So easily beguiled.” The freshness of this period film is that it lays out the muddled horrors of combat. What it fails to wrestle with is the personal conflicts of having such responsibilities thrust upon you.
Michôd is conscious of warfare and avoids glorifying it. Even as the plot crescendos to Henry declaring war on France, man’s lust for power and bloodshed comes to the forefront. Paired with Nicholas Britell’s stirring score of bellowing horns and a roaring choir, the spontaneity, and irregularity of which the French plains, mountain vistas, and rock formations intersperse in the film work to visually convey the magnitude of responsibility placed for those in power. Michôd’s low to the ground film work is mesmerizing and strangely hallucinogenic. However, by emphasizing the corruption and violence that is inherited, the film loses sight of its core: a coming-of-age story.
Chalamet's screen mates fuel the power of the narrative: Robert Pattinson’s portrayal of the Dauphin of France is so preposterous it feels like it was plucked from a fever dream; Lily-Rose Depp as reasoned Catherine of Valois whose worldliness matches Henry’s; and Edgerton himself as Flagstaff, Henry’s nonviolent confidant in a cabinet rife of schemes. The King was destined to get lost in the plethora of period dramas that preceded it, but the magnetism of Chalamet rescues it from such a fate.
One thing is for sure — our wayward prince’s reign has just begun.
The King is out on November 1st. You can watch the trailer here.