The King review: Shakespearean history perfectly told for modern era
The King is a new adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Parts I and II, and Henry V. The film was written by Joel Edgerton and David Michôd, the latter of whom also directed. While the film does not follow the narrative as Shakespeare wrote it, it flips certain elements on their heads to give it a modern update.
While this adaptation is certainly ‘modern,’ it is not modern in the way one might expect.
This Shakespeare adaptation is no 10 Things I Hate About You, where the film is placed in the modern era and characters are given the chance to speak in our vernacular.
Instead, Michôd and Edgerton’s The King is set in gruelling medieval England, with chainmail, dodgy haircuts and brawling drunkards to boot.
We are first introduced to Henry IV (Ben Mendelsohn), in a moment which falls at the start of Henry IV Part I, where he begins to suspect some of his court of conspiring against him, namely Sir Harry ‘Hotspur’ Percy (Tom Glyn-Carney).
This moment gives way to anarchy as rebels begin to strike up war in England – and also shows the audience how Henry IV’s reign is to be characterised.
The audience also meet Hal (Timothee Chalamet,) or the soon to be Henry V, who is living life as a drunkard in the low-life area of Eastcheap in London, aided by his drinking buddy, Sir John Falstaff (Joel Edgerton.)
Soon, his father dies and Hal is forced, much to his displeasure, to become King of England, and vows to be different to his war-mongering, paranoid father and bring peace to the land by refusing to retaliate to any form of slant.
But soon, as those around him manipulate and attempt to guide his reign (particularly the slippery William Gascoigne, played by Sean Harris,) he turns to Falstaff as a source of reason and light, to help him during a vicious battle which was to become famed throughout the land.
Shakespeare scholars may be confused by some elements of the narrative, as various characters are turned into something they were not in the plays, but these changes help to far better describe the state of 2019 and our political age.
For a start, there is the ideologist, the young man hoping to stop the war and falsehood that is killing his country.
But soon the desire for respect and the hope of change consumes him so much that he becomes ruthless, and embodies his father in ways he had not expected.
And while, in Shakespeare’s Henry IV Parts I and II, Falstaff is a scoundrel who sleeps with prostitutes and steals from the poor, here is our every-man, whose horrific experiences of war have turned him into a sympathetic soul, and numbed him to the extent where his solace is found in the bottom of a tankard of mead.
The decision from Michôd and Edgerton here means that, as Hal struggles to accept his new position, there is always someone there to speak truth to him until he eventually begs this truth to be continued from his new wife Princess Catherine (Lily Rose Depp.)
The battle scenes are gruesome and the whole film is shot through a lens of grey, hopeless violence, but the hope of a new beginning is sufficient to grip the viewer into questioning whether violence is ever needed, in whatever battles we face.
In choosing this route, The King pays homage to the works on which it is based, albeit loosely, while placing it firmly in its time but giving it a thoroughly modern perspective.
Timothee Chalamet gives a well-rounded performance of a young man thrust into a world he despises, only to struggle as he becomes a part of it.
Joel Edgerton’s Falstaff, meanwhile, is a man many would want fighting their corner – and possibly with them on a night out – as his gentleness seeps through the gruff exterior behind which he hides.
Excusing a few dodgy accents (ahem Robert Pattinson, who plays a very dim-witted Dauphin) the film gains momentum and brings viewers into a dark, dingy world where a crack of hope will shine through despite the ever-growing sense of confusion.
The King is released on Netflix from November 1
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