Co-writers David Michôd and Joel Edgerton separate King Henry V from Shakespeare as the two venture into new territory with Timothée Chalamet leading the onslaught as Prince Hal, the boy who would be king. Edgerton pulls double duty by playing Sir John Falstaff as a weary but valiant warrior, not the comic relief, while Robert Pattinson playfully injects wickedness at just the right moment as the Dauphin of France. No traces of the Bard here, just an engaging and sometimes thrilling undertaking that leads directly to the climactic Battle of Agincourt.
Off to the 15th century we go where a frail King Henry IV, played by routine baddie Ben Mendelsohn, summons his estranged son Hal (Timothée Chalamet) to inform him that younger brother Thomas (Dean-Charles Chapman) has been chosen as his successor to the crown. The announcement doesn’t phase Hal who has no desire to be the king and as a pacifist doesn’t agree with his father’s politics.
After a series of events that begin with Hal challenging traitor Hotspur (Tom Glynn-Carney) to a duel in order to keep his younger brother Thomas and the English troops off the battlefield, thus sparing potentially lost lives, he is thrust into the role of King Henry V after Thomas is killed in another skirmish.
Promising to rule the kingdom with peace, Henry is taunted into war by the Dauphin of France played with wickedness by Robert Pattinson whose appearance gives the film a shot of adrenaline as it moves towards the Battle of Agincourt finale.
Chalamet, the archetype for youth and beauty who always looks like he stepped out of a Noxzema commercial, does a solid job in his first mature role as the young King of England. The fight scenes are convincing and by the film’s end, the heartthrob actor has verified Michôd’s decision to cast him in the role. There is a scene during the film's climax which is reminiscent of “Braveheart” as Chalamet delivers a rousing speech in preparation for battle. He doesn’t reach the same plateau as Gibson but Chalamet is exceptionally convincing as he screams words of inspiration while rallying the troops.
“The King” features a strong supporting performance by Sean Harris as William Chief Justice, an advisor to both Henry IV and Henry V, and cameos by Lily-Rose Depp as Catherine, the French daughter of King Charles VI (Thibault de Montalembert) and the wonderful Thomasin McKenzie who was great in 2018’s “Leave No Trace” and this year’s “Jojo Rabbit” as Philippa, sister of Henry V.
Director David Michôd (“Animal Kingdom,” “The Rover”) delivers a vivacious spin on Shakespeare led by a mature performance by Chalamet and the reputable Joel Edgerton who once again is superb. Poetry is out, chutzpa is in. Long live The King.
(3 ½ stars)
In select theaters and streaming on Netflix