Timothée Chalamet, starring as King Henry in Netflix’s “The King,” has his hip signature hairstyle and carefree bachelor life cut short as he ascends the throne of his grudge-ridden father. Sporting a fresh bowl cut, Henry begins his new life as the reluctant and, to some, incapable King of England as he contends with the lasting impact of his late father’s tumultuous diplomacy. This loose adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Henry V” seeks to do quite a lot, but struggles to fit it all in its two-hour runtime.
Director David Michôd, like many trying to evoke England visually, decided to go with a typical muted color scheme, continuing TV and film’s tradition of presenting England as a depressing and sunless country. Whether this decision lands depends on the viewer. The coloring, at times, had a strong resemblance to films like “Dunkirk” or TV shows like “Game of Thrones.” In comparison however, the plot of “The King” isn’t as well-suited to its backdrop. “Dunkirk” is singular in theme and setting, revolving entirely around World War I, which calls for grim visuals. “The King” doesn’t share this singular focus; its color palette doesn’t work very well beyond battle scenes.
The pacing is also quite strange: the three acts are widely imbalanced in length, and it seems the segment revolving around Henry’s development resulted in the most content left on the cutting room floor. It’s lightning fast, and some of the jumps in his character are underexplained at best. Additionally, Henry V’s drunken knight companion, Sir Falstaff (Joel Edgerton), gets almost zero development despite being seemingly the only other character with a backstory. Nevertheless, it’s great to watch Edgerton quarrel uninterestedly with war-hungry lords and Henry, an altogether different ruler from the prince bachelor he knew before.
It makes sense for the film to sacrifice some character development for the sake of foregrounding Henry’s isolation at the top, but one wishes that the rest of the main cast had a bit more substance. This is especially true because many of the themes of “The King” — war, family, monarchy, power — have been done before, and done better. The characters, especially considering the quality of the performances behind them, are where the film really could have shone if there was more commitment to development.
The high production value, believable medieval dialogue and great performances from Chalamet, Edgerton and a ridiculously over-the-top Robert Pattinson as the Dauphin certainly made the film enjoyable to watch. The issue is that it tries to be a political drama, a war film and a character study all at once. It does each of these well enough, but lacks the narrative cohesiveness to deliver a memorable and fresh film.
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