Netflix’s “The King” fails to meet its potential

Photo courtesy of Photos by Somewhere in Toronto, Wikipedia

“The King” is another attempt by Netflix to create a medieval epic, but this time with an approach combining three Shakespeare plays into a two-hour film. As expected, this resulted in a rushed final product that still somehow managed to drag on.

The 2019 film was directed by David Michôd and was written by Michôd and Joel Edgerton, who also stars as Falstaff. Michôd has to be praised for his work with actors, because he absolutely pushed them to their limits, making their performances stand out phenomenally.

The cinematography of the film is beautiful, especially the wide shots of sunrises and sunsets. The battle scenes and the siege scenes were also particularly well shot, engaging the audience despite not glorifying the atrocities of medieval wars.

Sadly, these beautifully shot scenes are interesting to watch on their own, not in the context of this film. This makes the movie a failure in some sense in terms of its writing. 

Rewriting Shakespeare is a hard thing to do, and adding a few swear words into the mix will not result in a successful adaptation.

The film adapted three Shakespearian histories: “Henry IV part 1,” “Henry IV part 2” and “Henry V.” However, this decision only made them feel really disjointed. The two “Henry IV” plays basically happen in the first twenty minutes, and the motivation for the main characters gets lost within the film.

Although the movie slows down only to amateurishly build up into the final arc of “Henry V,” this is also the best part of the movie, thanks to the masterful performances exhibited by the actors.

Timothée Chalamet stars as Prince Hal, and later King Henry V, and he does an impressive job with pushing the film forward. Even though he is a master of his craft, he does often get overshadowed by other performances in this film. 

Despite this, his remarkable portrayal of anger and power really steals the spotlight from any Shakespearean scene, demanding the attention of the audience perfectly to deliver another monologue.

Chalamet is not the only one capable of demanding attention. One of the actors able to stable Chalamet’s thunder is Edgerton, but that also has to do with the fact that Falstaff’s character is somewhat changed from its original form, making him a more tragic character. Edgerton does really well with both dramatic and comedic scenes, elevating the weak text at points.

Other worthwhile performances include Sean Harris as William who walks the line of duplicity wonderfully, Lily-Rose Depp as Catherine who only really has one scene to work with but still gives her partner Chalamet an acting masterclass and Ben Mendelsohn as Henry IV who can just do no wrong when it comes to his acting choices.

Even so, the absolute highlight and the best part of the film is Robert Pattinson as the Dauphin. Pattinson has developed into one of the best actors of this generation, and this performance further proves such. He appears only in a few scenes, and his screen time is very limited, but he uses every second to its fullest potential. 

He makes an incredibly brave choice of making this spoiled French character into a cartoonish and reckless personality, and that gives much-needed tone of danger and levity to the movie. Every movement and word performed by Pattinson is incredibly engaging, and just a pure joy to witness.

Despite the strong third arc presented by Pattinson’s tour de force performance, “The King” fails in most other aspects, offering us just another forgettable Shakespeare adaptation.

3/5 stars