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The King [Film Club Extra 05]


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Our extra dose of medieval action comes in the form of David Michôd's The King, nominated by @Squirrel.  This film is an adaptation of Shakespeare's plays Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 and Henry V.  This is the latest of many adaptations of Shakespeare's epic, the most notable versions being Laurence Olivier's from the 40's and Kenneth Branagh's 80's rendition.  Big shoes to follow, but with a cast including Timothée Chalamet as Henry Prince of Wales later Henry V and support from the likes of Robert Pattinson, Ben Mendelsohn, and Joel Edgerton, this stands a good chance of living up to the reputation of its predecessors.

The King (2019) - IMDb

I've not seen this film, but I love both versions mentioned above, and this has a fantastic cast and, from the looks of the trailer, is gorgeous looking, so I'm very excited to check it out.

once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more

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The longest reveiw I have written so far ....

The King  

This was a very enjoyable historical film. I am not a historian but I have read and seen quite a bit of both historical fiction and non-fiction about this period. There are historical inaccuracies. But really they don't matter, in the main, because this is historical fiction not a documentary. It's using both real historical and purely fictitious characters to tell a story based on events that actually happened but also including lots scenes that did not actually happen, just as England's most renowned writer of historical fiction, William Shakespeare's did. His plays clearly had an influence on the script that covers the same basic story as a couple of them. But I would not say this was based on his plays and certainly is not his script. It covers the end of the reign of King Henry IV of England and the start of the reign of his son Henry V, the central character, cumulating in his famous victory at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. So most of this film covers what Shakespeare’s Henry V covers. 

As a prince the future Henry V is a playboy, enjoying life and all that his status as such gives him, showing no interest in affairs of state and a particular distaste for battles. Because of this younger brother Thomas is the designated heir to the throne, but Thomas dies and Henry succeeds their father. As the new monarch he receives gifts from fellow rulers and royalty. Amongst these is a set of tennis b*lls from the Dauphin (the title given to heirs to the French throne). This gift is a clear insult, a message that he ought to go back to playing the games of his youth and soon some of his lords and bishops are urging renewal of The Hundred Years War with France. Henry is unsure but when a would-be French assassin is caught, he is persuaded that it has to be war. So his army crosses the channel and lays siege to a strategically important town.  

Now the film loses a little for me and I find it hard to distinguish between what I know happened that the film doesn't explain well and what I got from the film itself. The siege took longer than expected and by the time the town (Harfleur) fell supplies were ruining low so Henry decided to stick with what he had achieved, for now, move the bulk of his army to his allies territory and resume the war at a later stage. But the French had been keeping tracks on English army as they gradually amassed a huge army of their own, and now that their own outnumbered Henry's significantly, they forced a battle. Some of Henry’s advisors urge him to make peace but his long time friend John Falstaff (more on him later) tells him how the battle can still be won, and win it they do.  

In the aftermath the King of France agrees to a peace deal that sees his daughter, Catharine, marry Henry, the Dauphin disinherited, and therefore son-in-law Henry become the new heir to the throne of France. Back in England, Henry’s new wife questions him about why he went to war and he realises he was manipulated into it. He personally deals with the advisor responsible for that, and now he is The King on his own terms, end of film. 

History or Fiction? I thought I would just go through a few things that I know did or did not happen as portrayed in the film. As I said above historical inaccuracies don’t really matter in historical fiction, unless they seem to have been done for the wrong or silly reasons.  

As far as I’m aware Henry IV always wanted his eldest son, Henry, to succeed him and as younger brother Thomas actually outlived Henry V that aspect of the plot is fiction, but it works in that it makes Henry a reluctant King who eventually accepts he must do his duty.   

The young Henry as the playboy figure is also fiction, I believe, and comes entirely from Shakespeare, as does the gift of tennis b*lls. Falstaff is another Shakespearian creation but his role in The King goes way beyond his role in the play Henry V; because in that he dies off-stage early on. I’ve heard it said that Shakespeare created Falstaff to appear in a number of his history plays just for a particular famous actor of the time to play him. Then the actor fell out with Shakespeare so he was written out of Henry V.  I think what the writers of this film have done is written Falstaff back into the story to give him the role that they feel he would have had, had he the original actor who played him not fallen out with Shakespeare. I don’t know if there is any other evidence to support that; I’m writing this before reading any other reviews. But whether it’s all the screen writers own doing or they are doing what they believe Shakespeare would have done, it is a great aspect to this film and real plus point for me.  

The way Henry going to war is justified strikes me as false. It was medieval times. You did not need an excuse to renew a war with your old rival. Although it does rightly hint that this particular renewal was more to do with uniting the country behind a King with a questionable claim to the English throne (his father deposed and killed his cousin Richard II) than actually pursuing a dated claim to the French throne (his great, great grandfather Edward III felt he should have been the heir to the French throne and started the Hundred Years War). 

The overall way the battle of Agincourt is portrayed is more realistic (based on what I have picked up from factual sources) than the two versions of Henry V I’ve seen, those made by Lawrence Olivier and Kenneth Brannagh. It shows the English army provoking the French into attacking. The English longbows reeking a massive toll on the French knights, and then the English winning because most of their foot soldiers are lightly armed and lightly armoured, which gave them a massive advantage on a very muddy battlefield where armour just weighed down already exhausted knights. But they still did not get it quite right and that annoys me when they have clearly gone to a great deal of effort and expense to recreate the battle.  What annoys me may only seem minor, but the French knights did not charge on horseback. The preceding decades of The Hundred Years war had taught them that a man and horse combined was just a much bigger target for an archer to hit than a man on foot. I genuinely wonder if the original script had them on foot but one of the producers insisted there has to be a mounted charge in a medieval battle. The other minor point about the battle was that rather than the English knights choosing to fight with their heavy armour removed it was actually the longbow men, once their arrows had run out, that joined the mele and not weighed down by armour found they had a big advantage in the mud and fought off a second French attack. 

The Dauphin did not lead the French army, but Robert Pattinson is one of the acting highlights so I quite like the way that was done. But one of main reasons the English won was Henry lead from the front and made some good tactical decisions. Whereas the French king, as shown later in the film, was in no state to lead an army and no one was really knew who was in charge. 

Another thing, not a historical inaccuracy, is Henry’s rousing speech pre-battle. I personally think Shakespeare’s famous lines he has Henry say are some the best the wrote, “We few, we happy few.  We band of brothers … ” - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Crispin's_Day_Speech. The speech in this film does not come close to that. 

I think I have probably gone on enough. As you can probably tell the Hundred Years War and the Wars of the Roses are topics, I have taken quite an interest in. So just a couple of other things. Henry was 29 at the time of this film, he looks about 18. My wife wants me to point out it was too dark (in terms of illumination of the interior scenes at night) - I think that is probably fair enough, there were no electric lights in those days – but if you’re watching a film you do need to be able to see what is going on. The acting was OK but other than Robert Pattinson not more than that, and if you have seen films of Shakespeare's plays featuring the same characters played by the greatest actors, you can not  help but make comparisons. 


So a good film, well worth watching with a few minor flaws. 7/10.


Edited by djw180
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