by CELIA BROCKER
The new Netflix drama “The King”, a gritty adaption of Henry V’s war against France, was released for streaming Nov. 1. “The King” is loosely based on Shakespeare’s play Henry V, though Netflix’s re-telling of King Henry is a far cry from the romantic Shakespeare adaptations we’re used to seeing. Gone are the poetic speeches and grand sword fights. Instead we are treated to what medieval battles were really like – gritty, chaotic and deadly.
The battle sequences are the most exciting part of the film – since the majority of the story is based in politics – and “The King” pulled no punches. Clearly the filmmakers did their homework, as much of the final battle sequence is true to the real Battle of Agincourt.
Game of Thrones fans may feel deja vu watching this battle scene, as the critically acclaimed episode ‘Battle of the Bastards’ was modeled after this real-life battle. In both cases, the protagonist’s army is well outnumbered by the other side. Though the odds were not on his side Henry and his army were able to win due to strategic battle planning.
The English brought twice as many archers than the French and their longbow was far superior to the French version. By tricking the French army into an early advance, the English surrounded them with their archers while the French were drowning in the mud due to their horses and heavy armor. More soldiers died from drowning in the mud baths than in actual battle, a true fact Netflix adhered to in “The King”. These scenes are gross and suffocating with hardly enough time to think, let alone time to pose for the camera – a feat in cinematography that should receive recognition at this year’s Academy Awards.
The problem is these scenes are over so quickly. The whole film is building up to this famous battle, the odds are highly against them, the tension is all there. And then the whole thing is over in fifteen minutes. Not a satisfying way to tell a story about a historical figure remembered for his battles.
There’s no question the movie is carried on the shoulders of Timothee Chalamet, who plays the young king. The Oscar-nominated actor has to go on an epic character journey, from a clowning prince to a naive new king to ruthless conqueror, all while never losing the support of the audience. And also have a believable English accent.
Chalamet pulls off this feat with incredible grace, which may land him another Oscar nod. The rest of the cast has smaller roles – and all are fairly one note – but no one gives a sour performance. The standout/scene stealer would have to be Robert Pattison as the Dauphin of France. Despite its historical inaccuracies, Pattison provides much needed comedic relief in an otherwise melodramatic film.
There were several liberties taken with history in the film. There is no historical evidence that suggests the French Dauphin sending mocking messages to King Henry, Henry’s strenuous relationships with his advisors or his wayward days before he assumed the throne. But Shakespeare took creative liberties when writing his play, so why shouldn’t “The King” do the same? The goal of cinema is to give entertainment, not a history lesson.
At its core, “The King” spins a tale about corruption in the world of politics and what comes of absolute power. Throughout the film Henry makes it clear that he wants peace for England, not to be a conqueror. But through his naiveté and with crooked advisors who are focused more on their own self-interest then their country’s, Henry finds himself being manipulated into declaring war on France.
The entire film is a statement about the nature of politics. Though set hundreds of years ago, the political world in “The King” is still relevant today. Though Henry begins steps into his role with good intentions, he eventually succumbs to the pressure to present himself as a ‘strong’ ruler. He sets aside his banner for peace in order to spare his pride, compromising his own ideals for the support of his advisors and subjects. Sound familiar?
Even the screen time of Henry’s future wife – Catherine of Valois – is a statement. The only significant female character in a film dominated by men, in her one major scene she is the only character allowed to converse with Henry as an equal, and the only one to speak plainly with no dishonest intentions.
Though he is the one who is considering marriage with her, Catherine ultimately holds the power in this scene as she interrogates him on his misguided actions that led him to war. Henry finds that his world is more corrupt than he realized, and is left to reconcile that thousands of lives were lost for no legitimate reason. Additionally, the audience sees that a world where women do not have a place at the table and men are left to govern is a very dangerous world indeed.
When Henry confronts his head advisor for falsely leading him into war – the most emotionally packed scene in the film – it culminates with in Henry killing the man in cold blood, a far cry from the peaceful man we met at the beginning of the film who was doing everything to avoid battles. This is done in front of a child, the spitting image of innocence, something Henry no longer recognizes.
Though it can be tedious and is a bit lacking for excitement, “The King” is a captivating tale about politics then that can very much be applied to politics now. Though it may be paved with good intentions, the road to power can lead to nasty outcomes.