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“The King”: Paradoxically Stale But Engaging

By: Kenneth Flores

Photo Courtesy of: Netflix

Tales of the medieval ages have not been as prominent or as successful in recent history as that of  “Game of Thrones.” However, the source material has plenty of potential for a modern and entertaining experience, filled with compelling heroes and engaging storytelling. In an attempt to diversify their original offerings, Netflix tackled the medieval drama genre by adapting a notable piece of historical fiction.

“The King” is an adaptation of various Shakespeare plays that center on the lives of King Henry IV and King Henry V. The film had a limited theatrical release on Oct. 11 and was then released on Netflix on Nov. 1. The film centers on King Henry V and his rise to the throne as he seeks to establish a ruling style that differs from his father’s. However, he learns that he may not be all that different from his father despite initial attempts at creating peace.

As the focus of the film, Timothée Chalamet’s portrayal of King Henry V is a letdown and easily the worst part of the film. He shows little emotion and seems like he’s simply reading the lines instead of immersing himself into his character. While his lack of passion is understandable at the start of the film because Henry V doesn’t want to succeed his father, his dull personality carries on even when his character assumes the royal crown. The closest amount of passion from him comes when he gives a speech to his fellow knights before fighting the French. In terms of facial expressions, Chalamet has very little variety and rarely shows off anything that resembles happiness or anger.

The other characters also have no charm due to bland acting. Robert Pattinson’s French accent for his character is stereotypically bad but avoids being cringeworthy. Like Chalamet, Pattinson lacks emotion for a character that is meant to have a lot of personality based on his royal status. King Henry V’s friend Falstaff is a loyal friend who also lacks personality. Despite being abandoned by Henry V when he assumes the royal throne, Falstaff shows no feeling or any sense of anger when he is abandoned or when Henry V apologizes to him.

Unfortunately, the characters’ dull acting is also reflected in the lackluster action scenes. During two different scenes of King Henry V doing one-on-one combat, the knights that surround him and his opponent merely stand still instead of creating a tense ambiance that reflects the significance of the fights. There are a couple of instances of explicit murder that briefly attract attention but are quickly forgotten. With the group battles, the characters seem like they’re merely pushing each other and not doing much combat outside of the occasional stabbing. 

Aesthetically, the film works well and immerses the viewer in the bleak atmosphere of the medieval ages. However, this makes it difficult for the audience to see the character’s emotions due to the lack of lighting. This issue adds to the larger problem of the characters appearing bland and unconvincing. Medieval England feels like a busy place with plenty of action and energy, and the film creates the aura of an actual country despite all the setbacks.

Fortunately, the story is engaging and picks up the slack. King Henry V’s arc is straightforward and solid as it showcases his progression from being a carefree kid to a competent leader. Despite his efforts to ensure peace through nonviolent means to distance himself from his father, he is forced to react violently and the resolution reflects the idea that King Henry V isn’t different from his father. The plot of King Henry V and his attempts at establishing peace with the French has proper build-up and ties back in perfectly with King Henry V’s character arc.

“The King” manages to be a film that is uninspired while also being engaging, creating a film that is decent at best. The aesthetics and world-building go above and beyond in emulating the medieval ages while the story is interesting and easy to follow. However, the acting and action scenes lack passion, which creates a disappointing experience that does not generate renewed interest in stories set in the medieval age.