Movie Review: 'The King'

John Thomas

King Henry IV of England (Ben Mendelsohn) is close enough to death to consider who will be heir to the throne and in what direction the future of his country will take. The normal course of succession is for the crown to go to the king’s eldest son, except he doesn’t approve of the heir apparent Hal (Timothée Chalamet).

He favors Hal’s younger brother Thomas of Lancaster (Dean-Charles Chapman). Hal has been reluctant to respond to his father’s numerous summons for a meeting. Knowing his father is gravely ill, Hal finally appears at his father’s bedside.

King Henry informs Hal of his decision to by-pass him for the crown. That’s fine with Hal, he feels too distant from the policies of his father, anyway – his brother is more aligned to their father’s wishes. Both Thomas and the King want to settle disputes with other heads of state by committing thousands of men to fight for them. Hal favors settling disputes in man-to-man combat.

The king is anxious to gather soldiers for his army and go to war. Hal is anxious to gather his friends together and go partying.

An ongoing battle between the English and the Scots is finally resolved when the two huge armies meet. Only one life is lost in the skirmish – that of the leader of the opposing army. Hal approached him with the idea of the two men fighting each other rather than ask thousands of soldiers to die for the cause. He agrees and loses his life as a result – Hal wins.

Frustrated with this turn of events, Thomas heads off to fight yet another battle for England. He also loses his life. Wth the death of their father, only Hal is left. He becomes Henry V.

Hal now has to deal with the intrigues, scheming and plots swirling through the court, diplomatic duties, governing the nation and grappling with conflicts and policies set in motion by his father. The main ongoing battle is that of sovereignty and rule over France. The conflict has been festering for decades – Hal wants it to end. With his successful strategy for a two man battle, he suggests to the Dauphin of France a similar resolution to their problem. The Dauphin scoffs at the idea (he thinks Hal is incompetent and foolish anyway), but eventually agrees to Hal’s offer. Big mistake for him as he loses not only his life but a large portion of France to England.

The agreement to allow English rule over French territory comes with a clause. The French King will agree to the settlement if Hal takes his daughter, the princess Catherine, as his wife. That’s the story that has been told many times in literature, art and film.

The director has given us a fresh, new creative interpretation, one that may appeal to a broader audience than past, more traditional stories have.

Directed by David Michód (Credits:  War Machine, The Rover), The King runs 133 minutes and is a “should see” film.


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