Netflix heads once more unto the breach with an overlong and inert portmanteau of Shakespearean plays, but its bloody, muddy centerpiece and heartthrob cast aren’t enough.
Australian director David Michôd is a much better filmmaker than his latest overlong slog through the 15th century English monarchy would suggest. The King, debuting on Netflix today after a limited theatrical run, is a collapsing of Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, and Henry V, though having excised most of the stuff that makes the bard any good. What’s left is a sluggish period drama boasting an impressive and enthusiastic teen-heartthrob cast, but with very little to do beyond have overwrought conversations in tents.
Timothée Chalamet stars as Prince Hal, the lanky wayward son of Henry IV (Ben Mendelsohn on great form but with little to do), who is plucked from a conflicted life of whoring to sit on the English throne and war with France after his father and suck-up brother Thomas (Dean-Charles Chapman) shuffle off their mortal coils and are ejected from the movie. Hal claims to know war and proves it by donning a full suit of armor that makes him look like the Peperami Man and unimpressively offing the ill-tempered traitor Hotspur (Tom Glynn-Carney). As King Henry V, he’d rather rally for peace, but is forced into conflict by repeated provocations from the Dauphin of France, played by Robert Pattinson doing a hilariously cloying Aristocats accent.
Pattinson, camper than a row of pink tents, is easily the best thing about The King, so it’s a shame that he’s barely in it. Michôd instead labors over political intrigue that isn’t all that intriguing, Hal’s relationship with his boisterous bestie Sir John Falstaff (co-writer Joel Edgerton), and a truce marriage between Hal and Catherine (Lily-Rose Depp) with a topical #MeToo sensibility that never really amounts to anything. The centerpiece is a spirited re-enactment of the Battle of Agincourt that will play a lot better for anyone who never watched Game of Thrones since most of its direction is lifted from the Battle of the Bastards, though without the added bonus of the audience caring what happens to anyone involved.
The solemn self-seriousness of The King is difficult to swallow without the knowing poeticism of Shakespeare’s writing, only snatches of which crop up now and again. The rest of the lecturing script is re-written for a contemporary ear and doesn’t fit the melodramatic politicking at all — once more unto the breach feels like one time too many.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.