I’ve always been an admirer of Netflix and their filmography. Whether it’s artistic films such as Roma by Alfonso Cuaron, or more intimate short passion projects such as Paul Thomas Anderson’s Anima, they have curated some amazing films and worked with amazing filmmakers.
David Michôd’s 2019 epic period piece is one of such collaborations between Netflix and an incredibly ambitious filmmaker. The directorial ambition is put to full display as the film throws all kinds of existential and moral dread right at its audiences, along with telling the story of a very frightened and confused young man.
“The King” follows the story of the young Henry V who preaches nothing but peace and love to his friends and family. However, there is sudden news about the death of his father and brother, along with growing tensions with Francis. King Henry V must now put his morals to the side in order to keep his people safe from the threats of the full scale invasion of England.
The film showcases a constant mental struggle that Henry goes through, while leading an army and not wanting to fight. It’s a constant mental back and forth that Henry faces at the edge of the sword as to not lose himself or his country.
The screenplay was also written by director David Michôd and he does a fantastic job at making the characters seem authentic to their time, while still having a fictional flair to them. That wouldn’t be much however if it wasn’t for the incredibly nerve-wracking performances in “The King”. Every single actor on the cast brings their A-Game here, from Ben Mendelhson as Henry IV to Lily-Rose Depp as Catherine of Valois and Thomasin McKenzie as Queen Phillippa of Denmark, and especially the lead cast do a terrific job.
Though the one stand out is the role of Henry in particular. Played outstandingly by Timothée Chalamet, whose performance can clearly be called his current career best! He just brings an aura of truthfulness to Henry‘s honesty, mentality and even his minimal flaws.
Joel Edgerton is the second most important cast member here, playing the role of famous 15th century-man Sir John Falstaff, he brings his experience to the role and does the beer-drinking, sword-swinging speech giver the absolute most justice you could. There’s also the unforgettable performance by Robert Pattinson as Louis the Dauphin, son of the French emperor, his is a more devious role which is conveyed a bit too evil instead of a morally grey outlook.
The chemistry between Falstaff and King Henry V is brought to life by the incredible talent on set. Timothée Chalamet and Joel Edgerton completely familiarize each other with these characters and take this challenge head on. Together they made realistic, flawed and highly original portrayals of English heroes that we can’t help but relate and empathize with.
Robert Pattinson as The Dauphin on the other hand was actually the pure embodiment of cruelty during war. It was a brilliant contrast, showing the goodness of some who wage war for specific causes, while the cruelty of those who wage war to invade and conquer.
David Michôd’s direction is powerful, his film is structured in a completely conventional way yet the writing is often very unconventional. There are dream sequences and scenes that are almost surreal in nature with some moments in general feeling too terrifying or mystical to be true. That’s in part due to the terrific camera work that’s present in the film. Cinematographer Adam Arkapaw works hand in hand with Michôd to create a mesmerizing film that looks just as good as it’s written.
The film is mostly lit by natural lighting and very minimal lighting work during indoor sequences. This gives us a feeling that there’s something much darker hidden in the shots, and represents the dilemma that Henry is going through perfectly. The film’s cinematography focuses on articulating the characters’ feelings, the grim medieval era, the hidden diplomacies and yet also the beauty of human goodness as well.
There is one specific aspect of the film that I cannot praise enough, and that is the divine way in which this film is produced. The sets looked authentic because for the most part, they were! The film was shot on location in many parts of England and in specific parts of Hungary.
The English locations consisted of The Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire and the Lincoln Cathedral. The Hungarian sets were mostly on the locations which the film showcased outside, such as the vast open fields and the large charismatic war sequences.
These were the real meat of the film, consistently putting Henry on the spot, making him choose between his Gods that are Peace or choosing the safety that might come from violence. This production design is something that I cannot praise enough. The locations in Hungary, especially in Szilvásvárad are where the film becomes its best possible version. Hungary’s beautiful countryside as the background for a scenic war sequence which leaves behind a trail of blood all across the field is poetic and encapsulates the horrors of war perfectly.
Surprisingly though, there is one specific aspect of “The King” that stands out more than literally anything else in the film. Despite all of the amazing acting, direction, the top-notch writing and cinematography or even the godly production design; the soundtrack by Nicholas Britell stands above all else.
This soundtrack was the mark of a perfectionist, a musical genius even. There are droning soundtracks with authentic instruments from that era, there are ballads with 13th century guitars, snares and drums, and there are slow violin and piano pieces to encapsulate Henry’s mental anguish. This soundtrack is the one thing that elevates this movie from a really good movie, to an absolute master class in filmmaking.
So, in conclusion; David Michôd’s “The King” is by far his single best film to date. It is an incredibly mature retelling of historic events that somehow happened within a flash, and littered history books with variations of retellings. “The King” is a near perfect film with quite literally no flaws that I can mention. It hits the sweet spot on everything, from the writing, structure and performances, to its incredible production design, camera work and that absolutely hypnotic soundtrack.
Netflix hit the jackpot when they acquired the rights for “The King”, because it is by far one of the most original and unique retellings of medieval history to ever be released.