The King review: ‘Diary of a wimpy king’
Timothée Chalamet’s Oscar-nominated turn in Call Me by Your Name made him the poster boy for masculinity at its most delicate and sensitive: his cry-athon over the closing credits made sure of that. But he is even more delicate and sensitive as King Henry V in David Michôd’s sombre historical drama, The King. Never mind that the Prince Hal in Shakespeare’s plays started off a hard-drinking party animal. In The King, he is updated to become Emo Hal.
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In the opening scenes, he seems unsuitable for kingship, not because he is too much of a wastrel; he is, in fact, a brave and skilful soldier, as he proves in a savage duel with Henry “Hotspur” Percy (Tom Glynn-Carney); who knew that knights in armour spent so much time punching each other? No, the reason Hal doesn’t seem right for England’s top job is that he is just too darn soulful. Whether he is moping around Eastcheap’s taverns as a prince, or arguing with his courtiers when he is on the throne, he always comes across as if he would rather be writing poetry about how unfair the world is. At one point, he pushes an eager wench out of his bed because he wants to lie there and think brooding thoughts instead. He is also absurdly spindly for such an accomplished warrior. Even with his armour on, he is so skinny and awkward that he could be a prototype for C-3PO.
Other characters have been modernised, too. Sir John Falstaff, who is likeably played by the film’s co-writer, Joel Edgerton, is no longer Shakespeare’s cowardly sot, but a distinguished, down-to-earth military veteran who is less interested in wine, women and song than in telling people that war is hell. He is more Little John than Friar Tuck, in other words. (And guess who comes up with England’s winning strategy at the battle of Agincourt?) Lily-Rose Depp appears as France’s Princess Catherine, and spends most of her screen time lecturing Henry on male immaturity. In general, The King isn’t a stirring paean to patriotism and martial glory, but a melancholy 21st-Century take on the loneliness of command and the drudgery of war. You might describe it as ‘talky’, but everyone is so soft-spoken that ‘whispery’ would be more accurate. The lighting is low, the palette ranges from greys to browns, and the gloomy orchestral score adds an almost subliminal extra layer of sorrow to what is already a less than exhilarating experience.