At first glance, adapting a story about the seat of privilege that is the throne might seem like an unexpected move for Australian director David Michôd — whose 2010 film, Animal Kingdom, is about working class Aussies turning to a life of crime to get out of poverty. Michôd’s The King, though, moulds Shakespeare’s Henry V into the story of a man drawn into dangerous moral territory, which turns out to be a snug fit for the filmmaker’s brand of hypermasculinity. Co-written by Michôd and Joel Edgerton, the prose of this adaptation retains a level of elegance, but there’s also an emotional accessibility to the film’s approach. Unfortunately, The King is inconsistent in terms of its drama, leaning into a slow and ponderous tone in its middle section that dulls the intense self-seriousness of its other passages.
Hollywood’s dauphin du jour Timothee Chalamet also seems an oddly fragile fit for the role of Henry: there’s a fight scene towards the beginning of the film that hardly shows off any actual, physical prowess. And yet the actor is highly capable of selling the gradual sense of decay that eats away at this antihero’s sense of nobility. Which is to say that his performance is far more effective than Robert Pattinson’s, whose thick, sleazy French accent recalls the sort of one-dimensional villainy of early James Bond movies. It’s a testament to the universality of Shakespeare’s themes that filmmakers still believe that their own reinterpretations of his work can add something to the discourse. But there ultimately isn’t much evidence that The King accomplishes this. Michôd serves up yet another big-screen adaptation of this very familiar tale, with only modest variations.
Published as part of October 2019’s Before We Vanish.