Into each life, some reign must fall. Or at least into every Netflix, in the fall: Last September it was Chris Pine and Florence Pugh stomping through 14th-century Scottish moors in Outlaw King; now it’s Timothée Chalamet and Robert Pattinson fighting for the crown across a feudal England and France of the 15th in The King.
Both movies trade in the same sort of muscular, woodsmoke-and-chainmail melodrama, though the more recent one roots its pedigree not in Braveheart-adjacent history but in Shakespeare: specifically Henry IV and V. And Australian director David Michôd (War Machine) and his cowriter Joel Edgerton, who also stars, have a singular commodity in Chalamet, the reigning boy-king of modern cinema.
As Prince Hal, he’s a milky-pale vision — a wastrel with the wispy dreaminess of a consumptive poet and the appetites of a sailor on shore leave. He spends most of his time boozing and bedding pretty maidens under the tipsy supervision of his good friend Falstaff (a bearish, bearded Edgerton), pointedly refusing to see his estranged and ailing father (Ben Mendelsohn) even as the older man approaches death; this prodigal son has no desire for the crown, or for reconciliation.
But that is not his destiny of course, and Michôd never lets the audience doubt for a minute that young Hal will put down the ale mug and find his inner warrior — or that once he does he will be better and cleverer and nobler than any other pretender to the throne. That inevitability leaches nearly all the narrative tension from the film, so what’s left is primarily a series of grand battleground set pieces — filmed crunchily, and well — and a series of consistently strong performances. (Has Mendelsohn ever not been menacing and great in anything?).
The lithe, doe-eyed Chalamet may feel too physically slight for the role, but he brings a fierce emotional intelligence that moves his Hal much closer to believability, and Pattinson, as the fantastically camp Dauphin of France, is a master class in Gallic bitchery. Lily-Rose Depp, one of few women permitted to speak more than a few expository lines, makes the most of her small but pivotal part; with her brutally honest dissection of royal pride and prejudice, she’s not just the film’s conscience, she’s the bellwether of a better king — and the woman who might one day come to rule him, too. B