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The King

The King

It is unlikely to always be good to be the king. There must be
times when it sucks

dir: David Michôd

2019

I have a confession to make – not that anyone asked. I do love me some Henry V. I don’t know whether I give a tinker’s cuss for the actual Henry the Fifth, as in the actual royal jerk, but I have enjoyed the Shakespearean version in several forms. I have probably seen the Kenneth Brannagh version too many times, and I’ve even seen the Sir Laurence Olivier version, because, yes, I am that old.

In whatever version of it I’ve seen or listened to, considering the joy of language on display when you hear Shakespeare firing on all cylinders, I never sat there watching it thinking, “You know what this needs? Less talky-talky, more stabby stabby.”

I can’t imagine the mindset that thinks, “You know how great the St Crispin’s Day speech is about bands of brothers and once more unto the breech and all that jazz, you know what, it’s tired, we need something with more pizzazz so the audience can collectively shrug in indifference.”

So, okay, maybe the thinking was “let’s make a more grounded, more down to earth version of this story, less flowery, more brutal”. I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that this thinking perplexes me. While we might not know or care how brutal things were way back then, we have actually had at least a million movies and tv series purporting to show us the ‘real’ long ago, the real brutality of what people are capable of.

And to that I say: Got it already, thanks. I’m never going to need “gritty” retellings of humanity’s barbaric past, because I’ve already seen it too many times, and our present, let alone our past, is plenty brutal anyway.

That’s not to ignore the fact that, in and of itself (the previous versions I’m praising versus this), it’s shameless propaganda for feudalism, for the concept of the Divine Right of Kings, and a shiny, distracting sugar-coating of what was a horrible day of pointless war for no good reason (for those who lost or died or wounded) regardless of how great the speeches were.

But I don’t need the documentary version. I don’t care enough about the history to want to sit through that. I’ll take the sugarcoated glorious version instead, thanks. That’s what I signed up for – I don’t need to know that it was one great victory amidst an hundred year war and that Good King Henry dies of dysentery in seven years’ time anyway.

So much for God’s favoured monarchs, eh?

The King has Timothée Chalomet playing the king of the title, but when we are first introduced to him, he is anything but kingly, whatever that means. His dad, presumably Henry IV, hates his fucking guts. And when Ben Mendelsohn hates your guts (playing Henry IV) he lets you know about it in no uncertain terms. He is not one to mince words. He will tell you with a menacing tone that your shoelace is untied, and you’ll check to make sure he hasn’t lopped off your leg.

But IV, even as he is dying, is determined to stick it to the son he sees as a wastrel and a scumbag. Hal, as he is usually known, is drunk most of the time, so it’s a hard charge to deny. He tells Hal in no uncertain terms that he is not to inherit his throne – that will go to his other son.

Now, this other poor bastard, being Thomas (Dean-Charles Chapman), you just know, as soon as he turns up, is not going to ever get what he wants. Mainly it’s because of the cruellest of cruel typecasting. You might not know the name Dean-Charles Chapman, but if you watched Game of Thrones back in the day you would remember him as Tommen Baratheon, an ill-fated child king in a long line of ill-fated child kings who dies an ignoble and pointless death.

I hope he gets a bit more to do with his acting career than just play pathetic monarchs, because that would be sad. I would feel sad for him. It would wear upon his poor soul, and mine, a bit. Anyway, blink and he’s both sad and pouty about his older brother stealing his glory in a convoluted (but ultimately simple, because it’s stupid) conflict of their father’s creation, and then gone. So, mourn not for Thomas for too long, because, eh.

We don’t really know anything about whether there’s any reason for Hal’s wicked ways other than wicked ways (drinking and whoring, I believe is the technical term) being a lot of fun. He doesn’t seem to just enjoy drinking and carrying on – he seems to do it with a passionate death wish, or because his dad doesn’t love him, I couldn’t really keep track of whether there was a reason or not. When he steps up, thinking that he’s going to save his brother Thomas from the pointless conflict, I think we were meant to get the impression that Hal is some kind of military badass and that he does care about something.

Maybe that’s what is intended. But what we actually see is a thin, pasty drunk put on a suit of armour that, had it been real, would have crushed him, and then he fumbles about with another guy in single combat, until he eventually stabs him in the neck. There’s nothing showy, or choreographed, or ‘cool’ or heroic about what he does, and maybe there’s never been anything cool about butchery anyway.

As king, Hal becomes Henry V, gets a bowl-head hair cut, stops drinking, but scowls perpetually. I’m not sure if he does great with the accent because I don’t know what Henry V sounded like, but I guess at least the American is trying. Heavy is the head that wears the crown, and yet we are given little to see of the personality below that weight. He trusts few at court, though those he does trust perhaps he should not. While he seems like he has some intelligence, at least more than his father, he ends up being far too gullible, and it kinda hurts the characterisation (what characterisation there is).

In the Brannagh version, the justification for invading the French was played a bit tongue-in-cheek. He knows it’s bullshit, we know it’s bullshit, the French know it’s bullshit when Henry is holding up a scrap of parchment and saying something like “this here scroll proves half of France is rightfully mine because of Eleanor of Aquitaine or something, so bow down before me, you salty peasants and cheese eating surrender monkeys”, you know it’s just an excuse for his ambitious.

To be burdened by such glorious purpose, and to not have an outlet for it? That would be the real crime. So, to war it is: Glory for the survivors, and the devil take the French and the fallen.

In this one, a sullen, distrusting former wastrel is pretty openly tricked into it by people basically lying to him like it’s in the schoolyard, telling him “um ah, the French have been saying all sorts of stuff about your mum and that, and you’re a girly squat to piss, and everyone’s laughing at ya.” And for that, nations crumble. And yet the facts remain that there was a battle at Agincourt, and the English were greatly outnumbered, and yea verily did the righteous triumph.

In this version, the military brilliance comes from John Falstaff (Australia’s Own Joel Edgerton), who advises the young king, about what’s what on the battle field, and how best to rule. Pre-king, Falstaff is as much of a drunken fuck up as Hal is. Post-kinging, Falstaff remains a drunken fuck up, but he reminds Henry V of his essential qualities; that he need not be as cruel as he thinks being king requires.

It’s a very different role than the Falstaff of Shakespeare’s plays, who exists as a joyous, slovenly life-loving counterpoint to the majesty that Henry V invests himself with upon ascending the throne. Specific points of the play (Henry IV) require Henry to tell Falstaff “Oi, we might have sunk a heroic amount of booze together, but don’t come the raw prawn with me, stinky fellow”, or something close to that. Here, it’s for the older gent to have the wisdom that Henry doesn’t possess just because he wears a crown. They have some good scenes together, probably the best in the film.

Unless people killing each other in the mud turns you on. When they contemplate how to beat the French, Falstaff tells the assembled host that rain will fall rendering the field muddy, that they should trick the French cavalry into charging into it, and then slaughter them accordingly.

Other people say “Nah, never happen bruv.” And Falstaff says “yeah, totes will.”

And wouldn’t you know it, it rains and rains.

So it’s time for Good King Hal to inspire and rally the troops. Does he drop some wise words, some inspiration, some uplift? Does he cry with passion that those not here will rue the day and lament their absence the rest of their lives, that they were absent on this great day of victory?

I don’t think so. What he does instead is scream in his strangled voice, that, like the Squeaky Voiced Teen from The Simpsons, maybe they’ll all die, who knows, but at least they’ll take a few Frenchies with them to hell, and if they had girlfriends, they’d kill them for dying.

It’s a prime piece of de-motivational theatre, making you wonder why they bothered in the first place. I guess the big speech before the battle is such a cliché that they elected to deliberately subvert the trope; it’s just that I guess I was hoping there would be something there. I like Timothée Chalomet, I really do, almost as much as I like just saying his name out loud. It’s a really great name. I just wish they’d let him do a bit more acting later in the film, when they’ve decided “nah, he’s done enough, let him have the rest of the film off.”

So there’s the battle, and that’s bloody and brutal, and then there’s the strange aftermath, as Henry deals with his success, and the realisation that he was tricked into this glorious endeavour by being a trusting idiot. And what’s a king to do when he realises he’s a dumbass?

He kills the ones closest to him.

Because this director’s name was attached to the flick, I figured he’d bring the same strange intensity and deranged terror that he managed to create in Animal Kingdom (though that could have just been Ben Mendelsohn off the leash and acting as crazy as he wanted producing the same effect). He kinda brings something different to the mix – I just am not sure what it is, and whether Chalomet, who strikes me as a young guy who’s starting to believe his own hype, and is starting to look like something who really enjoys the smell of his own farts, which could make it hard for him to take direction, or advice, or anything.

“Who are you to tell me what to do? I’m Academy Award Nominated Actor Timothée Chalomet, Shimmy Yah Shimmy Yay, motherfucker, and you’re just some Australian guy with a light metre and a funny accent.”

I can see it now, but I don’t know if that means I have a good imagination or I’m just delusional.

The big surprise is Robert Pattinson, as the Dauphin, who is fucking hilarious with his taunting of the young dumb king. He is amazing, but his appearances are all too brief.

I did get something out of it, and maybe I’m disappointed that I didn’t get something else that I was hoping for, but I shouldn’t hold that against the flick. Judge it for what it is, not for what I would wish it to be.

The King. It’s okay.

7 times if you want a flick to seem serious, just have everyone scowl all the time out of 10

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“I speak only when there's something to be said. Too often have I seen men of war invent work for themselves, work that leads to nothing but vainglory and slaughtered men. I'm not that man.” – but if you need someone for that, I know just the guy – The King

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