Monday, December 16, 2019

The King (2019)

Timothée Chalamet as King Henry V of England being anointed at his coronation
Lily-Rose Depp as Catherine of Valois
Sir John Falstaff: A king has no friends. Only followers and foe.~ from The King (2019)
[Warning: Contains Spoilers] The King combines Shakespeare's rendition of the 1415 Battle of Agincourt with some modern phraseology, with the writers playing fast and loose with the historical facts. Nevertheless, I found the movie enjoyable, especially in the portrayal of the fictional friendship between Prince Hal (Henry V) and the knight Falstaff. Falstaff tells Henry what he needs to hear in order to help him reform his dissolute life and become a leader of men. It shows once again how young men need the guidance of older men to be successful. Henry IV is depicted as weak and despised by his son, trying to remove Hal from the succession. I doubt that legally he could have done that to an invested Prince of Wales, although Henry IV had already ousted an anointed sovereign, Richard II. As for Henry's coronation, I wish it had been longer. It shows how the anointing of the monarch was similar to the sacrament of Holy Orders, bestowing authority and responsibility over the temporal realm of the Christian kingdom that was England.

From the Roger Ebert site:
David Michôd’s “The King,” [is] a smartly modern take on Shakespeare, loosely based on “Henriad.” It’s an expansive medieval picture that takes sophisticated liberties with the Bard’s work, expressly with an eye towards presenting history and its contemporary lessons in an accessible fashion to a new age group. And who can draw that crowd in better than young Chalamet with a most dedicated fan base? As the hard-partying, apathetic yet peace-oriented prince Hal who reluctantly becomes King Henry V of England in 1413, Chalamet manages to pull off something youthful and mature in equal measure, complete with a brooding gaze and a serious haircut.

But before he gets perplexed and devoured by his inherited power, and before the fabled Battle of Agincourt arrives, we naturally meet Prince Hal first. Sporting Chalamet’s famous, mid-parted locks, Hal unreservedly womanizes and boozes alongside his equally nonchalant friend and trusted mentor Falstaff (Joel Edgerton, also a co-writer with Michôd), a relegated knight now involved in small-time dealings in Eastcheap. The ruthless, war-mongering Henry IV (a severe and bad-tempered Ben Mendelsohn, aptly intimidating) is still in power, though it’s unclear for how much longer due to his failing health. The joint screenplay from Edgerton and Michôd sadly rushes through this bit, although not before we can take in the body count on a massive battlefield and get a shot of the unruly nobleman Hotspur (Tom Glynn-Carney), whom Hal would duel against later, on the royal road to become his father’s inevitable successor. It just happens in a mad rush—before we know it, Henry IV goes the way of all flesh and his beautiful boy halfheartedly comes of age under the weight of a shiny crown.

“The King” slashes through the heart of this hesitation, giving us a clear picture of a young person split between his newfound responsibilities and pacifist-leaning beliefs. Making this quiet, different version of Henry V his own interpretation (instead of, you know, a poor imitation of Sir Laurence Olivier’s definitive performance), Chalamet excels at emoting sharply through his eyes. When he has words to spare, it helps that the co-scribes had significantly (though respectfully) smoothened Shakespearean language for this side of the 21st Century. Would Hal just become his dad whom he once loathed (an eternally-relevant existential question at the center of many therapy sessions today)? Can he trust anyone? And what about that condescending ball sent by the Dauphin of France (a hilarious, scene-stealing Robert Pattinson)—should he really take offense like he’s advised to?
Also sidestepping a poorly attempted replication of the ultimate version of his character (Orson Welles in “Chimes at Midnight,” that is) Edgerton as a larger-than-life, irritable yet subtle Falstaff wisely reminds Hal the reality of his situation: “A king has no friends. Only foes and followers.” Case in point—growing into his throne with a series of dubious decisions, Hal does abandon his one true ally Falstaff for a while, making us sorely miss the gifted Australian actor with pronounced roots in Shakespeare and theater. (Read more.)

From The Lincolnite:
Above all, The King is a competent, thoroughly enjoyable coming-of-age historical tale, focusing on the evolution of the English King Henry V, from his sordid origins as the rebellious Prince Hal to his finest hour at the Battle of Agincourt. The film attempts to walk a fine line, purporting itself as an adaptation of both Shakespeare’s Henriad and the true events upon which the play was based in equal parts.

In reality, The King leans far more towards the former in terms of story, yet does away with the Shakespearean dialect in favour of an odd medley of modern and classical language. Ultimately, the film falls short on either side of the coin, being too outlandish to stand as a straight historical biopic, yet simultaneously is entirely too straight-laced and gritty to exist as a direct adaptation of Shakespeare à la Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V.

Despite its immediate shortcomings, the film holds up exceptionally well as a piece of entertainment. Timothée Chalamet plays the titular King Henry V, and despite the film’s tendency to match him against a rotating door of scene-stealing talent, he captures the nuances of his character flawlessly. His ability to jump from the debauched Prince Hal to the fearless warrior king of old without even a hint of contrivance is noteworthy of itself, and despite a few accent quibbles, his delivery of certain lines lifted directly from the source material are borderline iconic. His rapport with Ben Mendelsohn’s Henry IV, or lack thereof, is the driving force that carries the first third of the film, and it’s entirely due to the talent of the two actors that this succeeds. (Read more.)

While I loved the sets and costumes, they were on the bleak side. People forget that medieval people loved bright colors, and the nobles and royals were especially decked out in vibrant array. Even the cathedrals were painted and adorned, inside and out, in a way that modern folk might have found gaudy. Perhaps the grayness of the film was meant to convey the sufferings due to the Hundred Years War. As far as I could tell, Agincourt was pretty realistic, with the French knights becoming immobilized by the mud in their heavy plate armor, as the English longbows picked them off. By the way, the Dauphin character in the film is not St. Joan's Dauphin, the future Charles VII. It is his older brother Louis, Duc de Guyenne, who did die in 1415, the same year as Agincourt, although he was not at the battle. As for the future Charles VII, he was a small boy living with the family of his betrothed bride in a castle in Anjou. He and his older brother Jean, who also died young, were disinherited by the Treaty of Troyes, in which Henry V agreed to marry their sister Catherine and become the new heir to France. It would take the Maid to win back the crown for the rightful King of France. Meanwhile, The King ends on a note of promise, with the young couple gazing honestly and hopefully at each other.

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