Timothée Chalamet or Tom Hiddleston? Here’s which Henry V is the true king of our hearts (opinion)
EW examines whether the Henry V of 'The King' or BBC's 'Henry V' is a bigger royal snack.
We few, we happy few who have somehow been granted this ridiculous power by our editors, have a most pressing question to examine: Which internet boyfriend, in all their regal glory, makes a hotter King Henry V of England?
There have been plenty of King Henrys (Hal, to his friends) before them — and there will undoubtedly be many after. But men like Kenneth Branagh and Laurence Olivier have never inspired the level of internet hysteria our beloved Timmy and Hiddles have — mostly by virtue of the fact that the height of their stardom came in a pre-Tumblr and Twitter age. So, which Hal will it be?
Hiddleston has the benefit of running time – he portrayed Henry across BBC productions of Henry IV, Parts One and Two and Henry V back in 2012. Chalamet offers up his version of Hal in the nearly two-and-a-half-hour Netflix film The King, which debuted Nov. 1 on Netflix.
The King is not a Shakespeare adaptation, while Hiddleston’s turns as Henry are – but the Chalamet vehicle owes a heavy debt to the works of the Bard in both story structure and its central relationship between Hal and John Falstaff (an invention of Shakespeare’s based on a real historical figure, Sir John Oldcastle). But setting aside the stark differences in linguistic approach to storytelling, these two skinny snacks offer up distinctly different interpretations of the iconic English monarch — one sullen and introspective, the other more brash and showy.
The real Henry V was 27 when he ascended the English throne – Chalamet is now 23, while Hiddleston took on the part in his early thirties, so they split the difference on age proximity. The real Henry was, well, decidedly not hot. Unless you’re into bowl cuts and pencil-thin eyebrows. See: Exhibit A, below.
This haircut is perhaps Chalamet’s downfall. The King strives for more historical accuracy than William Shakespeare (shocking, I know). About 40 minutes into the movie, they cut off all of his beautiful, overly mussed hair and leave him with a bowl cut. Such a hirsute crime has not been committed onscreen since Chris Evans shaved off his beard in Avengers: Endgame. Chalamet, admittedly, rocks it as best he can — and it suits his boyish face better than most, but it’s still not a good look. Plus, it’s particularly despair-inducing to watch him go from little grunge prince to Friar Tuck in the space of seconds.
In contrast, Hiddleston models his natural nearly ginger locks — and, post-coronation, grows a goatee to boot. If you like your monarchs a little more disheveled, their curly hair flying free on the field of Agincourt, accompanied by well-groomed facial hair, Hiddleston wins. No question. Sure, they’re both king — but does their hair look like you can run your fingers through it with the unbridled glee of a romance heroine? Being royal is great and all, but if your coat of hair can’t match your coat of arms, what is even the point?
Hal, after all, is meant to be a romantic hero by the story’s end, wooing his new French bride, Catherine of Valois — and if you were meeting your new husband with whom you did not share a common language, presumably a luscious head of flowing locks would be a great starting point. Meanwhile, a bowl cut is just gonna leave you questioning his taste and if he might be under the undue influence of his hairdresser.
Costumes further this point and grant Hiddleston another point in his favor. One word: leather.
Hiddleston sports a lot of it — from some body-hugging breeches to an assortment of doublets with v-necks deep enough to leave room for someone to draw a map of England on his chest. Chalamet wears darker colors throughout, and enough velvet to outfit several years’ worth of Christmas card looks. He drowns in his clothes, the weight of his kingly duties enhanced through over-sized looks that make him look overwhelmed.
Both Henrys are most appealing in their churlish, bad boy days, their collars hanging open as they carouse with women and drink at the tavern. Anyone who ever had a soft spot for our contemporary Prince Harry understands the appeal of a devilishly roguish prince who just can’t seem to keep himself out of trouble. Chalamet makes the most of his brief moments of bedroom eyes (and hair) before becoming more buttoned-up (literally). Their battle garb, chain-mail overlaid with plates of armor, is remarkably similar, but while Chalamet wears his reluctantly, the weight of war visible in his carriage, Hiddleston sports it like a fairy-tale prince, ready to slay a dragon.
The King grants us a portrait of a reluctant monarch, a young man who suddenly finds a nation’s fate resting on his shoulders. In many ways, Hal’s journey through Shakespeare’s Henriad is a similar tale, a coming-of-age story about a boy become king. But Shakespeare was celebrating (and in some ways creating) a national icon — as a result, while the Bard’s Henry leaves space for guilt, indecision, and more, he’s ultimately a figure of patriotic heroism. Just listen to the St. Crispin’s day speech and try to not feel like getting off your couch and taking a spear to the French.
It’s this that makes Hiddleston’s Hal the bigger thirst trap. Chalamet has a particular gift for playing emotionally wounded young men, but he wraps that behind a sullen stoicism in The King. Even when he’s supposedly having fun, he feels more like he’s drinking himself into a haze of wine and women than actively taking pleasure in any moment of his life. And even that hurt is kept behind a wall. The camera lingers lovingly on his brooding face, but he never lets us in enough to aspire any deeply felt empathy. The internet’s favorite sad boy is somehow inexplicably just too damn sad.
In contrast, Hiddleston delivers a boisterous, joyous performance. It’s one that knows when to ruminate in quieter moments (he gives great pretty sad face too, let’s be honest), but one that also relishes the flourishes of Shakespeare’s language. His Hal lets you in on everything he’s feeling — whether it’s the breathless enthusiasm and sense of honor as he rallies his troops, his face smeared with blood and sweat; or the ungodly amounts of charm, oozing out of every pore as he romances his new fiancée. Even in more solemn moments of contemplation, when he’s mourning his father and feeling the literal weight of his crown, we’re privy to all of his grief and apprehension as it flickers across his face.
In a sense, The King tries to make Henry V more human, casting a sense of existential dread across the age-old themes of war and peace, fathers and sons. Shakespeare’s history plays are notably larger-than-life, a task that Hiddleston rises up to and even exceeds. He takes the outsized, flowery language and extraordinary circumstances and humanizes the proceedings. While Chalamet’s Henry keeps his hurt bottled up, occasionally spilling out of his endlessly expressive eyes, Hiddleston’s Hal is a living, breathing man who seems to take exceeding care with his feelings and all those who surround him.
We stan a king in touch with his feelings and capable of expressing them in poetical language, one who can rock some leather and facial hair while he’s at it. The battle between Chalamet and Hiddleston’s Henry is ultimately as much of a rout as the Battle of Agincourt — and we know which one we’d follow once more unto the breach, dear friends.