A bowl cut (exhibited by Timothée in The King) is specific to the person who wears it; not being a suitable fit for everyone. So is David Michôd’s The King, a film that feels like it’s an experience only some would particularly enjoy. Based on several plays from William Shakespeare’s “Henriad”, The King recounts the story of an obstinate Prince Hal, and his ascension to the English throne following his father’s death (Henry IV), as he struggles to keep hold of his rule over his country’s peace, as war and chaos looms over the nation’s horizons.
At its finest moments The King is a visceral portrait of King Henry V; projecting to life on the big screen and his willful efforts to establish peace among his country and his people. Yet, in a film about the prestigious royalty of the monarchy, these moments rarely seem to come along. With much reference to the film’s climactic muddy battle, most of the film seems to be stuck in mud. Fully-developed ideas struggle to escape the foundation, while the pace plods forward with little build-out. The plot seems to be in a deadlock, as it isn’t truly exploring what it could be, halting much of the film from going forward.
Following its gloomy opening scene, Michôd’s historical drama starts off at a dreadfully slow pace. The pace works well in indulging the audience into this medieval landscape of bowl cuts, wine and kings. But outside of the immersion, it traps the film in a standstill, in which the plot and its characters, aren’t able to be developed properly. Surface level explorations are made of Hal’s struggle with his coming to terms with the weight of his new responsibilities. But that’s all it is – on the surface. Ideas surrounding the film’s characters, in particular with Hal, are never truly realized or explored in detail, leaving the film with a shockingly shallow sense of development of its characters.
However when it does hit, during the heading halfway into the second act, The King is a wonderfully dark examination of King Henry V’s successes in France. The occupation and battle scenes are framed and shot with beautifully vivid and feisty colors by cinematographer Adam Arkapaw, who does a great job of capturing the somber, despondent, but hopeful atmosphere of medieval England and its army of men. Arkapow’s work on the battle scenes are intently messy and grimy, bringing the audience through a whirlwind of cavalry, arrows and sword v sword clashes. Through all the sullen and grimy conflict, Arkapow’s immersive and muddled cinematography brings us on a visceral experience through a hard-felt battle between two fighting nations.
The bits of The King that do work are also mostly dependent on Timothée’s brooding performance as a wayward Prince who’s suddenly tasked with the immense title of becoming a ‘King’. Even throughout the bits that don’t work, Timothée’s Hal is what drives the film into becoming a semi-worthy portrait of a very real historical figure. Carrying on the prowess of acting talent he has acquired over his so-far short but highly admired career, Timothée once again does wonders as he transforms into Prince Hal and his latter acquisition of the role of King Henry V.
Whilst its Timothée’s ponderous performance as Hal that truly defines the film’s tone, it’s Robert Pattinson’s questionably humorous performance as France’s Dauphin that easily steals the show; with his comical French accent being the true spotlight of the role. It’s playful, childish and quite frankly also seems like a mockery, that for some reason fits in with the egotistical nature of his character, despite being a massive tonal contrast against the film’s darker elements. The only other performance that really stands out among the two aforementioned actors, is a character who barely has 5 minutes of screen time: Lily Rose-Depp’s cogent Catherine of Valois. Catherine is firmly subtle, strong-willed, precise and adaptable, with Lily displaying all of this with only a small amount of screen time.
Edgerton is solid as fallen knight Sir John Fastolf, but his character’s personality is never really explored in enough detail to ensue him into becoming a compelling enough character. Fastolf’s issues are all present – his intoxication from binge-drinking, and his fall in character and status from noble knight to drunk maudlin. These ideas are briefly mentioned here and there, accompanying Edgerton’s muddled and moody performance; but it’s a shame for an actor of Edgerton’s ability to never have his character developed beyond surface-level mentions of his struggles. His character could’ve been a pivotal point in enforcing some proper character development in an otherwise lightly-developed film.
Sean Harris (in a role more ‘Sean Harris’ than ever) is quite impressive. But just like Lily Rose-Depp, he’s let down by a lack of screen time. His performance is quiet and subtly manipulative, and works well among the background of the film, building up with lies and stark cunningness as the film goes along.
The King is an ambitious but convoluted medieval portrait of King Henry V’s ascension to the English throne. It’s an ambitious piece of film-making that never truly reaches its willful ambitions. At times, its a subliminally beguiling account of a young, burdened King; but at others, its an undeveloped mire of solid intentions. The King succeeds best when dire conflict is present – best exemplified through its encompassing battle scenes. Unfortunately, the film fails to dazzle for the majority of it’s run-time, only holding through on account of its tenacious performances. What we can appreciate and learn from this film though, is that some men are in fact able to look fashionable with a bowl cut!
The King is now playing in select cinemas, following its UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival on October 3rd. It is scheduled to stream digitally on Netflix on November 1.