Impressively mounted and poised gracefully on a high moral ground, “The King” is everything a historical epic ought to be. Its earnest stab at costumed resplendence as represented in the British royalty’s penchant for power usurpation, is no doubt commendable.
But somewhere in the quest to remain true to history and to the historical-epic format, “The King” falls short of breadth, opting for a more micro perception of a universal dilemma — to be or not to be ambitious and morally driven at the same time — where we expected a more panned-out exploration of the dark often ugly politics of 15th century Britain.
The performances too fall short of expectation. Much as I enjoyed Timothee Chalamet’s metamorphosis from Beautiful Boy to Stricken King, this is not a fully-realised character, the callowness of the actor outrunning the inexperience of the royal character he plays. Although Chalamet has worked very hard on his voice and poise, the boyishness that he exuded with such endearing nonchalance in “Call Me By Your Name” doesn’t quite serve the purpose here.
As the morally conflicted anti-war callow and inexperienced King Henry V, Chalamet compares poorly with his adversary the malevolent French Prince Louis, heir to the French throne played with a furiously evil design by Robert Pattinson. Whenever Pattinson is on screen the frames leap up into flames of frightening aggression.
Nowhere do we sense the same passion in Chalamet’s interaction with his dying father King Henry 4 (Ben Medelsohn) or later with his war-monegring cabinet. As a son who can’t tolerate his father’s sloppy corrupt statesmanship, Chalamet expresses his wrath with a studied cool that’s as Shakespearean as Justin Bieber.
Another problem is with Joel Edgerton’s Falstaff. The actor plays him with such lipsmacking earthiness and hedonism that it becomes impossible to believe he can be trusted to defend Britain against foreign invasion. Saddling the inexperienced or the inept with epic responsibilities seems a way of life in this film.
Nonetheless, the director negotiates his way through Henry 4’s coming-of-age saga with a striking visual and emotional force, not unlike what we experience when reading Shakespeare aloud to an audience that may not be listening. The war scenes are vivid , capturing the wastage of human life and the irrelevance of the carnage in one epic sweep.
The King could have been a far better film had it reached deeper into the recesses of the characters as they grappled with a politics that was was so inured in intrigue, it seemed to be unfolding in a cinematic language.Except that it wasn’t cinema. This is. [By Subhash K. Jha]