ONE British king whose life has been filmed several times on both movies and TV is Henry V, 1386-1422, whose triumph against the French in the famous Battle of Agincourt helps in establishing England as a world power. One of the best versions we saw was “Henry V”, based on William Shakespeare’s play, directed and starring Kenneth Branagh. It got several Oscar nominations in 1989. There was another one made by Laurence Olivier in 1944, but we haven’t seen it.
The newest version is now on Netflix, starring Timothee Chalamet, the French-American actor who got an Oscar nomination for “Call Me By Your Name”. “The King” is a historical drama that is a more modern take on Shakespeare’s “Henriad” meant for a younger generation of viewers. The 1989 film started with Henry as already the King of England, more belligerent and ready to wage a war against France. It is also more stagey and uses a chorus to aid in narrating the story.
In the new version, Henry or Hal is a pacifist who wants to avoid war. His dad Henry IV (Ben Mendehlson) is still alive. Hal is not close to him and thinks he is a bad king for preferring to wage war than offering peace to their neighbors. Although he is next in succession as the Prince of Wales, he really doesn’t care as he is more interested in boozing and whoring with his friend, John Falstaff (Joel Edgerton, who co-wrote the script).
His father tells him that his chosen successor is not him but Thomas (Dean Charles-Chapman of “Game of Thrones”), Hal’s younger brother. But Thomas dies in battle and when their father soon follows, Hal has no choice but to be crowned as King Henry V. Hal chooses to reconcile with his father’s enemies and the dukes around him consider this a sign of weakness. His sister Philippa (Thomazin Mckenzie) warns him that the nobles in his royal court have their own hidden agenda so he should be careful.
When an assassin sent by France to kill him is captured, Hal’s advisers urge him to declare war against France. He then gets Falstaff to be his chief military adviser and they sail across the English Channel for France. They see a huge French army assembled and poised to crush them.
But Falstaff has a plan on how to entice the French to meet with them in the very muddy battlefield where they will be weighed down by their heavy armour that limited their movement. And that’s how the English army outwitted them and triumphed in what became known as the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.
The arrogant French Dauphin (Robert Pattinson in a thankless supporting role and speaking with a very fake French accent) was killed in the battle. His father, King Charles VI of France, later surrenders to Hal and gives him his daughter, Catherine of Valois (Lily Rose Depp), from whom he learned that France didn’t really send any assassin to kill him.
It was just fabricated by a nobleman so he’d fight France and the movie ends with him confronting the liar and killing him, showing that he who started as a reluctant leader has now evolved and learned to make his own decisions as the King. Chalamet gives his own understated but engaging interpretation of the young king, thanks to the more contemporary language used. It’s still based on the Bard’s original lines but junks the lambic pentameter to simplify it for millennial audiences.
The climactic battle scenes obviously ate much of the movie’s big budget and it must have been torturous to shoot in all that mud. The cinematography makes it all look like a gorgeous period piece, making use of natural lighting. Actually, we feel it deserves to be seen on a big screen and not just streaming on TV for us viewers to have a better appreciation of all the fine craftsmanship that went into the making of this movie which runs for more than two hours but is never boring.