Netflix’s Friday night release of “The King” was long-awaited, especially for dedicated fans of the leading man and DiCaprio-esque heartthrob Timothée Chalamet. Since his unusually successful Oscar run in 2018 — he had a role in not one but two Best Picture nominees, not to mention a Best Actor nomination — Chalamet’s every move and performance has been highly publicized and highly appraised. The average Chalamet enthusiast, however, may be somewhat disappointed by this particular undertaking.
Perhaps the offputting element is his mildly unconvincing English accent, but Chalamet’s performance in the period drama has moments of severe lackluster, making it difficult to suspend disbelief that he is indeed a 15th century English monarch — though it is plausible that his stiltedness and insincerity may have been an intentional reflection of the character, a boyish prodigal son thrust into the most demanding and hazardous position one could assume.
Though Chalamet does a fairly good job portraying the nuances of the Henry V’s psyche as he grapples with the kingly necessities of bloodshed, politics and internal morality versus external pressure from the corrupt elites, the movie does little to allow for smooth or logical character development. One moment, Chalamet’s king is wayward, unconforming and adamant in his desire to be a more empathetic ruler than his father, and yet the next moment he is as cruel and punishing as his predecessor. The central theme of the movie is eventually communicated to the audience — the nature of power as a corrupting force and a lack of absolute truth in politics — yet its development is clunky.
The supporting characters are the redeeming lifeblood of this film. Where Chalamet, or perhaps the script, fails to be affecting, more minor characters lift the narrative in moments where the sheer heaviness of the movie could benefit from levity and nuance. John Falstaff (Joel Edgerton), for instance, is humorous and refreshingly crude, yet ultimately garners the most sympathy and love from the audience, even more so than the protagonist himself.
Catherine of Valois (Lily-Rose Depp) delivers — in a mere ten minute scene, the only one in which she is central — the most affecting and substantial dialogue in the entire film. She is level-headed and articulate, criticizing Henry for his hypocrisy and impulsivity — “You have shed the blood of so many Christian souls, and, yet, before me now, all I see is a young and vain and foolish man so easily riled. So easily beguiled.” In her too-brief appearance, she articulates the film’s central conflict and challenges the brutish irrationality of the leading men. The introduction of her wisdom and clarity are crucial to the narrative’s denouement.
Robert Pattinson, though also only having an incredibly short amount of screentime, animates the Dauphin in a way that redeems the mediocrity of the film. Though many still have a difficult time separating him from his vapid role as Edward Cullen in “Twilight,” Pattinson has proven time and time again that his acting skills are exceptional. His exaggerated French accent is hilarious — adding levity to the film’s weightiness — and his delivery is nothing short of perfectly devilish.
Overall, the movie does have merit even beyond that of its fantastically written and performed supporting characters. The dialogue is eloquent and convincing, and the set and costume design are admirable in both their austere simplicity and tactile detail. Though slightly weighed down by muted color grading, the cinematography has a well-executed duality — at appropriate times, it is grandiose and epic, and at others it is applied with a deliberately light hand. Certain frames are exceptionally beautiful and artful, and dissolving transitions between scenes are masterfully superimposed.
One of the most commendable aspects of “The King” is its willingness to be awkward — and thus realistic. The one-on-one combat scene between Henry V and Hotspur, for instance, is prolonged and undignified, paralleled by the Dauphin’s death scene in which he ungracefully slips on mud for upwards of a full minute before falling victim to Henry V’s army. Notably, the film does not gratuitously employ violence either — each act of bloodshed carries a certain necessary weight. It is with these choices that the movie enforces its most poignant messages — the sobering reality of death, the fading glory of war and the corrupting and the illusory effects of the power-hungry.