Weighing in on Shakespearian Adaptation in The King

I recall being in high school and watching some of the older Shakespeare theatrical film adaptations while in class as part of the lecture. On their own, most of these movies are a bit above average at best, not living up to the hype of the plays they’re based on and sometimes featuring odd casting choices and writing changes. The King somewhat fits into that ballpark as a historical drama/period piece that is hit or miss for the most part, though its reception has been rather on the positive side given the number of film awards it has won since its release. I streamed this one on Netflix several nights ago to see what it had in store for me and, well, I’ve got quite a bit to say on both sides of the playing field… so let’s get right into it.

First off, the film is directed by David Michôd (best known for his work on Animal Kingdom) and is closely based off of Shakespeare’s Henriad collective of plays. One thing that caught me off-guard was the inclusion of a rather largescale celebrity cast of characters as well as character actors, I might add. You’ve got Joel Edgerton in a leading role, Robert Pattinson oddly enough in a supporting role as one of the royals’ children, and even Lily-Rose Depp (AKA Johnny Depp’s own daughter) in a supporting role as Catherine. So the star power is somewhat there. Also, it is interesting to note that the film, which is produced by Brad Pitt among others, was released exclusively to digital streaming, namely Netflix, following its release via the Venice Film Festival.

Timothee Chalamet as King Henry V
Timothee Chalamet as King Henry V

Getting right to the content of the movie at hand, it all starts off with the protagonist “Hal” (AKA Prince Henry of Wales) and his camaraderie with John Falstaff. The young men venture around London and take advantage of their status and environment through means of bonding through drinks, dates with women, and general partying. You see, the young Henry of Wales has no interest in his father’s policies and future plans of himself succeeding his father at the throne. However, it soon turns out that Hal’s brother, Thomas, is to take the throne instead. This prompts Hal to become competitive against Thomas and, soon enough, he puts his strength on display through means of battle, killing a rival army’s leader and longtime opponent of his in the process. The tragedy unveils further from there, resulting in some allied casualties for Hal and his people. Soon enough, Hal realizes that, upon finally gaining control of the throne as King Henry V (successor to his father), he has a lot of work to do in controlling his new empire, restoring peace to the land through nonviolent means, etc.

I must say that, as far as this one goes for an adaptation of a historical play, the acting is pretty top-notch, which is perhaps further granted through the outwardly apparent credence of the stellar writing shining throughout. Certain parts of the film, such as the dramatic moment of betrayal and execution of specific key characters around the halfway point (if you watch you’ll know what I mean), really exhibit the previously mentioned factors the most. Another strong suit that works in The King‘s favour has to be the performances of Timothee Chalamet as Hal/Henry V as well as Joel Edgerton alike. Most of the actors were fairly competent, though I thought that Chalamet really took his role to the next level due to how emotive and decisive he seems to be, especially when he inevitably reaches and assumes such a high status of power. He knows that not all can be trusted in the long run. Edgerton is fairly amusing at times as a bit more than a sidekick in general. Oh, and the costume designs (which won a couple of awards) are fairly cool, too.

One major scene featured in The King
One major scene featured in The King

While there are some things I really enjoyed about this flick, I still thought that there were certain parts that could’ve been improved. One such aspect happens to be the musical score, which I personally thought was underwhelming at some key points, such as towards the ending. Now, I understand that The King is meant to be significantly more dramatic in tone as opposed to the previous Shakespeare film adaptations (i.e. Romeo & JulietA Midsummer Night’s Dream… some of which were all around comedic), given that this historical drama does have some tragic elements thrown in throughout. However, there could’ve been a bit more in the score that could’ve, well, underscored those moments for lack of a better term. This is only an issue in a few parts, though. And the film is around two and a half hours, which may or may not put off some select audiences, as the pacing is hit or miss here. Despite that, the payoff at the end of the flick is one that I’m thoroughly satisfied with.

All in all, I liked most of The King for what it was. I went into it with an open mind and finished my viewing rather pleased with the end product. Seeing a few of the onscreen actors I enjoyed doing a really stellar job at portraying an old school dramatic, historical play that I honestly don’t know a whole lot about myself was a breath of fresh air, even with all the filler stuff that could’ve been cut out and the awkward pacing at times. I really have to give credit to the direction as well, which helped keep me at the edge of my seat for the majority of this Netflix film’s rather lengthy running time, which is something that not very many longwinded direct-to-video/VOD movies can truly do. I personally rate this one somewhat highly in the film adaptations of Shakespeare, perhaps even around the same tier as my personal fave, Macbeth (the 1971 adaptation, though I enjoy the 2015 one as well). It’s worth a weekend viewing if you’re keen on this type of literature or if you’re a history or dramatic play or film buff at all.

Written by Dave Rafalko

Gamer, film buff, musician, student of the arts, etc.

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