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The works of William Shakespeare are timeless, and continue to have influence on drama and comedy centuries after his death. This includes direct adaptations, as Hollywood has regularly tried to capture the magic of The Bard with various reboots or reimaginings of his greatest hits — and the latest attempt to do is David Michod's The King.
The movie, which was co-written by Michod and Joel Edgerton, is an adaptation of Shakespeare's Henriad, his collection of historical plays. Much like in the source material, the movie chronicles the life of King Henry V, and his journey from becoming a disgraced noble, to the king of England. The King chronicles a great piece of history in adapting Shakespeare's work in a cinematic way, but tends to drag frequently.
The King's impressive imagery is diminished by lulls in action
The King looks beautiful and frequently finds ways to make vast plains of soldiers coated in armor cinematic. The same is true in a few interior scenes as Timothée Chalamet's King Henry V (or Hal) gets thrown into an incredibly important position he never asked for. The film is at its best following Hal has he reconciles with the responsibilities of being a monarch, but unfortunately dries up elsewhere.
Very little about this movie is action-heavy. Those looking for massive medieval battles must wait until deep into the story, and which includes a good deal of exposition in the first 20 minutes. After that, David Michôd's plot jumps from event to event, giving the audience a lesson in the first weeks of a king's life post-coronation. It's informative in the same way a history class is, but almost too much so, to the point where it drifts from the most interesting bits of the story.
To its credit, The King often finds its way back to Henry V realizing the decisions a king makes are far more complicated than initially assumed, and when it's there, it's great. The movie gets better about focusing on that emotional toll and character change as it continues, but never gets away from bouncing over to overtly long scenes (the distribution of the wedding gifts for example) that probably would've made for a tighter movie had they established purpose faster..
Strong performances from Timothee Chalamet, Robert Pattinson and Joel Edgerton are The King's saving grace
If there are some bright points to these long scenes, it's that The King has quite a cast that delivers solid performances all throughout. Timothée Chalamet's performance is regal and what it needs to be, and is elevated greatly by Joel Edgerton's Falstaff and Sean Harris' William Gascoigne. These two spend a good deal of the movie right alongside the King, and it's a good thing because the interactions each shares with Henry are great.
It would be foolish not to mention Robert Pattinson's performance as The Dauphin. It's that eccentric, near-over the top performance fans of his indie work will enjoy, and another point in favor of the argument that he's capable of the acting range required to star in The Batman. Sadly, he doesn't get a ton of on-screen time to really shine in the role, but it's notable all the same.
Pattinson isn't the only actor in The King whose screen time is limited either. What we see from Ben Mendelsohn as King Henry IV and Lily-Rose Depp as Catherine is great, but they're gone almost as soon as we get a feel for what they're about. These short performances do somewhat make up for the parts of The King that drag, though one can't help but wonder if the movie could've benefited from trimming other scenes to give more time to the supporting cast.
The King may leave some unfamiliar with the source material lost
As mentioned, The King is based on the historical plays of Shakespeare (who's influence will appear in another modern work soon), which in turn is a telling of actual historical events through the lens of the time in which they were created. The King takes a bit from each story in the Henriad, which may explain why parts of the story feel incomplete, and others a bit confusing.
There are parts of the movie where it feels like it assumes the audience know the story, and isn't looking to answer the questions some may have. For example, had I known of Falstaff's long history with Henry V prior to watching, I would've understood the significance of his character much earlier on. The King may do a solid job of culminating all these works into a more cohesive (and likely shorter story), though that's only something someone familiar with the Henriad could appreciate.
The King may be a solid adaptation of a handful of Shakespeare plays, but the length of the film and dull moments kills the ending. It was a moment that should've felt like a big "a ha" moment, and while the scene is enjoyable, there is still a part of you waiting for things to wrap up.
This is upsetting because there are bright moments in The King. Visually, it's impeccable, and there are a handful of performances that will certainly entertain history buffs eager to watch, or students looking for an alternative to Spark Notes. Those just wanting to jump in to see this cast may not find it worth the time, however, and may find themselves bored waiting on the next big actor to appear onscreen.