Netflix’s The King review: a gorgeous but uninspiring period drama

Timothée Chalamet plays a king in The King, David Michôd’s well-acted but flat adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henriad…

Ahead of the upcoming awards season, The King seemingly ticked every box: it packed all the necessary ingredients, and looked poised to take away a smattering of gongs.

With the people’s favourite star, Timothée Chalamet, at the helm, Animal Kingdom‘s David Michôd behind the camera and a screenplay based on three (!) Shakespeare plays, The King had everything to lose. It’s regrettable, then, that while it doesn’t quite lose everything, it certainly falls short of expectations.

Chalamet is – to quote Lady Bird – the titular role, playing Hal, the layabout son of ailing King Henry IV (a spluttering Ben Mendelsohn), apathetic about his impending ascension to the throne. He’s a drunk, a social butterfly and his father’s last choice to succeed him. But after some internal family politics, Hal is soon crowned and in the face of his country’s uncertainty over his fitness as king, he sets the gears in motion to prove himself at the Battle of Agincourt.

If The King is remembered for anything, let it be its visuals. Calling it sumptuous is an understatement, and Adam Arkapaw’s cinematography gives The King bags of texture and polish. Typically, generously budgeted features like these deserve to be viewed on the big screen, but there’s something to be said for this being a Netflix release as it feels a great deal more intimate.

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Where The King stumbles is in how safe it plays things. A sweeping narrative like this, drawn from some of Shakespeare’s best, should pop in a way that this effort never gets close to. It’s a dutiful production, handsomely directed and filled with rock solid performances, but there’s no edge to it. The battle sequences mean viewers get their fair share of bloody violence, but it’s mostly perfunctory.

Chalamet is characteristically strong, delivering a mature performance delivered with precision. This feels particularly important as the script, penned by Michôd and Joel Edgerton (who also co-stars as Hal’s drinking buddy and knight, John Falstaff) fails to capture any of the Shakespearian language or scope that would allow a film like this to soar. Chalamet is a valuable beacon of clarity in a film that is, at best, reverent and, at worst, inarticulate.

As Hal’s chief adversary, Louis, the dandyish Dauphin of Viennois, Robert Pattinson makes the most refreshing lemonade out of lemons. His role – a preening, underhand plutocrat – is given an almost goofy edge by Pattinson, who adopts a shaky French accent and exchanges memorable barbs with Chalamet’s king. There is no comic relief in The King, but Pattinson’s Dauphin is the closest thing to it – an eminently watchable, entertaining and necessary addition to a film that plays it very straight.

While Timothée Chalamet shows that he needs more leading roles in this vein, The King is too unemotional to have any real impact. Visually, it’s a treat, and that, combined with game work by the cast, might be enough for some, but its mishandling of exquisite source material is hard to forgive.

The King is available to stream on Netflix now.


3 out of 5