The King (2019) stands firm as a monumental piece of a period drama about power, and its devastating influence.
David Michôd’s The King (2019) loosely adapts a Shakespearean drama Henriad, in which young prince Hal (Timothée Chalamet) inherits the throne of England. However, the teenage prince has a rather wayward way of being; he is more interested in a beer-and-cheer lifestyle, rather than sitting behind the steering wheel of the country. But when king Henry IV dies, Hal’s calling for power comes to realization.
The King (2019) could start with a question: what do young medieval kings and unicorn-founders like Mark Zuckerberg have in common?
Not much at a first glance. But when you think deeper, there is a very characteristic denominator for both: power.
From kings to start-up masterminds, the vision of absolute control has a tempting silhouette, but there’s a poisonous fang waiting to bite underneath it. And just like Zuckerberg’s career has been fueled by the need to control things at Facebook, that’s also where the Australian director David Michôd finds an anchor for his narrative.
In the beginning, Hal has little interest in the area of political maneuvers, however his sense of duty – and a fatal death of his daddy’s-favorite brother – force him to accept the crown. Yet life of the England’s king is no bed of roses, and Henry’s authority gets shattered almost instantly. When Dauphin, a clown prince of France (a marvelous, over-the-top episodic role played by Robert Pattinson), sends Hal a you’re-lesser-than-me gift, Hal decides to go to war and show his true colors.
Timothée Chalamet shines as King Henry V
Much of the first act of The King (2019) takes place in castles, corridors and opulent rooms. It’s a magnificent work of set and costume design, and DP Adam Arkapaw sets the mood with deep darkness and very little, frequently dim light. There are monsters in these shadows, lurking to possess young Hal like scorpions in Macbeth’s mind. Michôd takes advantage of this setting, and gives the main star Timothée Chalamet time to build the character.
The young actor, best known for his role in Call Me By Your Name (2017), puts on a fine performance as an adolescent king formed from a booze-loving teenager. Henry’s man of few words, but that’s a mask he wears among people he can’t trust. There’s depth to Chalamet’s role, the kind of youthful zeal that resides behind the stoic facade of a king.
It’s not only Chalamet’s spectacle though.
I was also under the spell of brilliantly cast Sean Harris. Harris plays a silent advisor of Henry, with an always-worried, lost-in-thoughts attitude. Along with Chalamet, Harris outshines Joel Edgerton’s somehow bleak portrayal of Sir John Falstaff, a sarcastic warrior-turned-drunkard, who befriends young Hal.
The King (2019) sails swiftly in the second half of the film – the moment when war’s brought to England’s doorstep. But be wary of what swift means to the Aussie director. Even on the brink of war, The King (2019) is nothing close to any action movie mashed with some medieval weaponry (I’m looking at you, Outlaw King). Michôd fulfills his auteur vision and owns the meticulous approach, executed in a chilling way that makes a days-lasting siege look spectacular, with trebuchets and fire bombs lighting up the sky like it’s the New Year’s Eve. In the most spectacular scene of the film, Michôd throws Chalamet in the middle of the fierce battle of Agincourt, only to follow his blood-and-sweat effort in an uncut shot, with mud and metal clanking that make the vast majority of medieval films look like a joke.
The King (2019) conveys a universal message about power and corruption
Such rawness is a thing to appreciate, and that third act encapsulates Hal’s transition in a visceral way. Through mud and violence, the weight of his decisions casts a shadow, and the young king slowly falls victim to the craving of power he insisted to neglect at the beginning. With his ambition inflamed, Henry risks everything only to prove Dauphin he’s not to be fiddled with.
Michôd arguments that the decisions of Henry eventually alienate him, and he fulfills his destiny as a lonesome king. That’s what truly echoes in The King (2019) – how men in charge are left with their fears and guilt alone, and how this solitude grows on them.
What somehow lacks in David Michôd’s solemn vision is enough room to explore Henry’s boyhood transformation. The director’s a painter who spends weeks on a tiny detail of his opus magnum. That, however, jeopardizes the bigger picture of his work.As a consequence, The King (2019) has some emotionally dry areas, where even Chalamet’s bravado can’t hide the difficulty of translating Shakespeare to a more cinematic language.
What works as a raw depiction of rise-to-power scheme isn’t equally engaging as a coming-of-age tale.
Nonetheless, The King (2019) never fails to grasp the attention and keep the heartbeat accelerated. There’s this constant unease, much of which exists thanks to the combination of Adam Arkapaw’s delightful cinematography with Nicholas Brittel’s ominous soundtrack. The score has a harrowing rhythm to it, with poignant trumpets and choirs that accompany Hal’s most lonely moments.
In the way that reminded me of Mark Zuckerberg, Henry too becomes a symbol of wrongdoing, which is not necessarily his fault. At least not entirely. But that’s how power blindfolds the men with an access to it – they act selfishly until someone points their eyes to the damage they’ve done to people surrounding them. But the question is this – was any of them ready for that burden in the first place?
The King (2019) – Culturally Hated or Loved?
With its impressive audiovisual design, David Michôd directs an engaging tale set in medieval times, which has a truly universal meaning.
The King (2019)
Dir. David Michôd
Hate Grade: 2.5/10