England is beset with civil strife and the heir to its throne, Prince Henry, aka Hal (Timothée Chalamet), has deserted his royal duty, opting to party and drink opposite his loyal companion Sir John Falstaff (Joel Edgerton) instead. However when King Henry IV (Ben Mendelsohn) dies, his eldest takes up the mantle as expected of him. In spite of his efforts to maintain peace though, war with France seems inevitable.
‘The King’ takes as its source William Shakespeare's “Henriad” (his history plays depicting Prince Harry, later Henry V, as the hero), and while iambic pentameter is lacking, there are plenty of metaphors that speak of betrayal and war while advice is donned on battle efforts and beneficial relationships. Its script was co-written by Joel Edgerton, who puts in an impressive performance as Falstaff (once again proving himself one of Hollywood’s most underrated actors), and director David Michôd (whose last credit, also for Netflix, was the rather dreadful war “comedy” ‘War Machine’).
For his film, Michôd has assembled an impressive cast who aside from Edgerton and Ben Mendelsohn include Sean Harris, who is excellent as William, ‘Game of Thrones’ star Dean-Charles Chapman as Thomas of Lancaster, and Tom Glynn-Carney whose turn as “Hotspur” Percy is short but memorable. Pattinson as The Dauphin of France plays up the part in a mad, quirky, cartoonish manner. He doesn’t have quite enough screen time to establish himself as menacing, but he’s certainly a fascinating addition.
Unfortunately, Timothée Chalamet sticks out like a sore thumb among the cast and never quite fits into the world as he should (which is saying something given Pattinson’s over-the-top performance). When sharing scenes with the other actors, Chalamet consistently comes out as the weakest link. It isn’t to say the ‘Call Me By Your Name’ Oscar nominee can’t act, he has simply been miscast here, and for all the viewer’s hopes that at some point there will be a moment where it all clicks, Chalamet is simply not credible in the part.
Much of ‘The King’ does work from Jane Petrie’s costumes (‘The Crown’, ‘Outlaw King’) and Fiona Crombie’s (‘The Favourite’) production design to the haphazard, awkward fight choreography which is appropriate given the impenetrable armour the soldiers wear and the muddy battle backdrops; indeed the choreography neatly reflects the chaotic nature of war itself. Most importantly, most of the aforementioned cast work well, but when your lead lacks strength and presence in their performance, the whole movie is going to suffer.