by Ethan Paxton | Staff Writer
This week I found it important to spotlight the recently released Netflix original film The King, written and directed by David Michod and Joel Edgerton. Loosely based on real historical events, this film tells the story of the incidents that propel Henry V to become England’s king and the conflict between his kingdom and France, most notably the famous (600-year-old spoiler alert) victory at Agincourt during the Hundred Years War. Beyond being an impressive English victory, William Shakespeare wrote a series of plays that have highlighted this iconic battle. One of the things this film does exceptionally well for its story is ditching the Elizabethan language that Shakespeare’s Henry V is typically associated with yet adapting what is in essence the same storyline. This works well for the film thematically, allowing for the audience to more easily see this story of power, character and betrayal.
The favorite part of this film for me was the wonderful cinematography. The opening shot of this film is of a sunset on a grass hillside, as the camera pans over a bunch of bodies on the ground and soldiers finishing off any stragglers. It was after this moment that I knew I was in for a treat. The rest of the film did not disappoint for even after the opening shot, the cinematographer Adam Arkapaw indulges us with stunning shots and pans around the English and Hungarian landscapes. The authenticity of the castle sets and grimy setting of the town further cement you in the period. Another element of the film is the use of lighting and the occasional lens flare. The lighting is phenomenal and used throughout the film to convey personalities and attitudes in scenes, triggering a subconscious awareness in the audience’s brain regarding certain situations.
This film is more than just aesthetic though, for some of its best moments are in the quiet, simple one-on-one scenes between characters, where personalities come through. Timotheé Chalamet’s King Henry V is an unexpected success, for his brooding stare and soft-spoken manners juxtaposed with his rousing intensity. He manages to commit to his role without saying anything, conveying a message with his body language and eyes. Though I loved him in the quieter moments, his best acting was in the scene before the battle when he rouses his troops. Edgerton’s Falstaff was also an emotionally compelling addition who delivered some of the more thoughtful lines from the story. Sean Harris’ William and Robert Pattinson’s Dauphin of France are solid additions who require little effort to be entertaining, but it was Ben Mendelson’s Henry IV who, despite limited screen-time, was the most enjoyable member of the supporting cast. He manages to bring a level of depth to an ill patriarch in a very short time.
The Agincourt battle The King builds up to depicts the craziness, ferocity and loud confusion of war. Chaos ensues as one struggles to identify the opponent, flailing around without cause at what appears to be the enemy. The gritty realism of these scenes are masterfully shot and evoke a true fear from the audience. In addition, the long takes keep each perspective grounded. Rather than panning over an entire army, much of the battle zeroes in on individuals as they fight, making it easier to follow. There is also a scene near its end that expertly subverts expectations and keeps the film in the realness of mucky war. Once the battle has concluded, Arkapaw treats us to more gorgeous shots that pan over the devastation and the bodies that lie in the ruin.
I will note that despite good performances and solid scene construction, there were times when the story felt fast-paced, mainly because it gave the impression that character development had taken place when it had not been given enough time for it to do so. Perhaps this was done intentionally to represent the speed at which the main character is thrust into his position. With Disney+ coming out in a couple of days, I found it important to highlight a Netflix original film to remind of the importance of Netflix and appreciate what it’s trying to do: Offer a variety of film and tv that can be set apart from Marvel, Star Wars, and Disney’s animated movies. The King is a great film, and despite a few issues that may bog it down, the solid acting, impressive aesthetic and surprising story moments make it an enjoyable work. 8/10 pinecones.