Acclaimed Australian director of Animal Kingdom, David Michôd, tackles a little Shakespeare in his latest flick. The King will be on Netflix soon, but we think it’s worth making the effort to catch it on the big screen in this week’s limited run at our gem boutique cinema, The Backlot.
First things first, here’s the offical synopsis:
Hal, wayward prince and reluctant heir to the English throne, has turned his back on royal life and is living among the people. But when his tyrannical father dies, Hal is crowned King Henry V and is forced to embrace the life he had previously tried to escape. Now the young king must navigate the palace politics, chaos and war his father left behind, and the emotional strings of his past life — including his relationship with his closest friend and mentor, the ageing alcoholic knight, John Falstaff.
I’ll be the first to admit going into my viewing of The King, I was not in the right mind frame for a near two-and-a-half-hour Shakespearean adaptation. It had been a long day on my feet, I was exhausted, and the caffeine had long worn off by the time I had run straight from the day job. I was quite worried walking in my attention span would be lacking and a little concerned about just how Shakespeare we were talking. Ultimately no matter how highbrow we can see ourselves; a straight adaptation of The Bard can be hard to follow!
Luckily this gorgeous, thoughtful and at times understated and modern (exhale of relief) adaptation of Henry IV is completely captivating. Michôd takes his time with this one but every moment draws you in to the world, politics, machinations, strategy and the very apparent modern allegories within.
Timothée Chalamet expertly plays our lead, Prince Hal, from womanising scoundrel to petulant and defiant son to reluctant leader, general and hero of the people. Scorning the old ways and the march of war he has turned his back on his father and his kingdom. Echoing the declassified youth of today Hal wants to break the cycle but it ultimately drawn into everything he wanted to avoid. Chalamet outs himself squarely back into Oscar consideration with a sensitive, nuanced but yet powerful performance.
His supporting cast is equally up the task. Co-writer Joel Edgerton puts on a wonderfully quiet and restrained turn as Hal’s close friend and advisor. He provides the counterpoint to the manipulations and machinations of Sean Harris as our new king’s right and left hands. Robert Pattinson turns up as a delightfully mocking and sassy French Prince that manages to both provide a little comic relief and menace as our third-act antagonist. Oh, and one can’t forget Ben Mendelsohn being typically and expectedly great as Hal’s rapidly declining and beleaguered father, King Henry IV.
On the production side The King is shot gorgeously. Stark, gritty and dark every scene looks like a million dollars. Chalamet’s Hal spends his efforts trying to avoid the needless so called “glory” of war that his predecessors sought that when we finally get to that moment where the conflict is a necessity there’s no glory in it at all. It’s bleak, overwhelming, suffocating stark and downright horrible as the mess of armour, horses and humanity bleed and die in the mud. There’s no glamour in war and I appreciated the lack of grandiose and heroics in the overall visual style of the film.
Needless to say, The King should be seen on the big screen. As much as I appreciate Netflix bringing this scale of work to our homes this is a film worth seeing bigger, louder and without a phone in your hand (No judgement, we all do it). Luckily our wonderful friends at The Backlot has scored a limited run from October 11-16. Do yourself a favour and give The King a chance at your full and undivided attention.