Timothée Chalamet Gives a Regal Performance in ‘The King’

Timothée Chalamet transforms into a heroic leader of Shakespearian proportions in Netflix’s latest feature, “The King.” Chalamet stars as England’s Henry V, the fourteenth century monarch who solidified his place as one of the greatest military leaders during the Hundred Years’ War against France, most notably during the infamous Battle of Agincourt. Director David Michôd and Joel Edgerton, who also co-stars as Henry’s only true friend, the knight John Fastolf, adapted the screenplay from Shakespeare’s history plays “Henry IV, Part 1, ”“Henry IV Part 2,” and “Henry V,” although one unfamiliar with those specific works would probably never be able to tell, as they made the choice to mostly do away with the Bard’s iambic pentameter in favor of more modern dialogue. Chalamet’s princely role sees the Oscar nominee finally go head to head with none other than Robert Pattinson, who plays Henry’s main adversary, Louis, the Dauphin of France, in this character-driven drama that explores power and the art of warfare. 

Before he can be the king, Henry has to first be Prince Hal, the first-born son of Henry IV (Ben Mendelson). However, being the oldest doesn’t guarantee Hal the succession, as his father favors his soft but determined younger son, Thomas (“Game of Thrones” actor Dean-Charles Chapman doing what he does best here). The elder Henry, whose already early death is being hastened by disloyal subjects and civil strifes, has little patience for Hal, who whittles away most of his time drinking and sleeping around. However, the prince gets his call to action after learning of his brother’s plans to lead an army against a traitor, Henry Percy (Tom Glynn-Carney). In order to avoid hundred of needless deaths, Hal challenges the man to a one-on-one duel, and here we see the first glimpses of the valiant leader he eventually becomes.

Despite his reputation as a warrior king, the Henry we see here is primarily a peaceful man, and he only declares war against France after what he perceives to be provocation by Charles VI (Thibault de Montalembert) and his eldest son, Louis. However, there’s more happening behind the scenes, as Michôd and Edgerton do an excellent job of illustrating what goes into the making of a war, as power hungry nobles are constantly maneuvering like pieces on a chess board. A striking scene, one in which we see Henry transform into a fearsome king, involves him overseeing the beheading of a treacherous pair of formerly close relatives.

Louis does not show up in the flesh until about halfway through the film, and Pattinson is worth the wait, as he makes some amusing choices in his portrayal of the dauphin, a pompous doufus. He’s first face-to-face with Henry is a great scene in which both actors are in top form, their respective strengths on full display. Then there’s the battle itself, an epic showdown in the mud, shot in a way that doesn’t glamourize the realities of war.

“The King” doesn’t have the romanticism of a “Braveheart,” or even of the more recent Netflix historical epic “Outlaw King.” At times, it even feels dry. However, it’s an intriguing character study and the acting is superb, and not just Chalamet and Pattinson, as Edgerton gives another inspired performance. He’s one of those rare actors who always seem to disappear completely into every character he plays. And even though she only shows up in a few scenes towards the end, Lily-Rose Depp makes quite an impression as the French princess Catherine. As does Thomasin McKenzie, a gifted young actress who made Hollywood take notice with her role in last year’s “Leave No Trace.” Here, she shows great maturity and gravitas as Philippa, Henry’s teen sister who is already a queen consort of Denmark.

The King” opens Oct. 11 in select theaters and begins streaming Nov. 1 on Netflix.