The King is a 2019 epic war film directed by David Michôd, based on several plays from William Shakespeare’s Henriad.
The film focuses on the rise of Henry V as king after his father dies as he also must navigate palace politics, the war his father left behind, and the emotional strings of his past life.
Henry, Prince of Wales, “Hal”, is the emotionally distant eldest son of King Henry IV of England. Hal is uninterested in succeeding his father and spends his days drinking, whoring, and jesting with his companion John Falstaff in Eastcheap. His father summons Hal and informs him that Hal’s younger brother, Thomas, will inherit the throne. Thomas is sent to subdue Hotspur’s rebellion but is upstaged by the arrival of Hal, who challenges Hotspur to single combat. Although Hal kills Hotspur, ending the battle without further conflict, Thomas complains that Hal has stolen his glory. Shortly thereafter, Thomas is killed in battle after taking his campaign to Wales.
Henry IV dies in his bed with Hal present, and Hal is crowned King Henry V. Hal opts for peace and conciliation with his father’s many adversaries, despite his actions being seen as weakness. At his coronation feast, the Dauphin of France sends Hal a ball as an insulting coronation gift. However, Hal chooses to frame this as a positive reflection of his boyhood. His sister Philippa, now the Queen of Denmark, cautions that nobles in any royal court have their own interests in mind and will never fully reveal their true intentions.
Hal interrogates a captured assassin who claims to have been sent by King Charles VI of France to assassinate Hal. The English nobles Cambridge and Grey are approached by French agents hoping to induce them to the French cause. Their trust in the new young king wavers, and they then approach Hal’s Chief Justice, William Gascoigne, with their concerns. Gascoigne advises Hal that a show of strength is necessary to unite England, so Hal declares war on France and has Cambridge and Grey beheaded. He approaches Falstaff and appoints him as his chief military strategist, saying that Falstaff is the only man he truly trusts.
The English army sets sail for France. After completing the Siege of Harfleur, they continue on the campaign but are taunted by the Dauphin. The English advance parties stumble upon a vast French army gathering to face them. Dorset advises Hal to retreat, but Falstaff proposes a false advance to lure the French to rush forward into the muddy battlefield, where they will be weighed down by their heavy armour and horses. They will then be attacked by the English longbowmen and surrounded by a large, lightly armoured flanking force hidden in the nearby woods.
Falstaff insists on leading the dangerous false advance, as it was his plan, prompting Hal to challenge the Dauphin to single combat to decide the battle and minimise bloodshed; however, the Dauphin refuses. The Battle of Agincourt commences. Falstaff’s plan works – the bulk of the French army charges to engage Falstaff’s force and is soon mired in the mud. Hal leads the flanking attack, and the outnumbered but far more mobile English army overpowers the immobilised French, though Falstaff is killed. The Dauphin, still fresh and in heavy armour, reinvokes Hal’s challenge but repeatedly slips and falls in the mud until Hal permits his soldiers to kill him. Hal orders all French prisoners executed for fear that they might regroup, an order that Falstaff had refused to carry out following the Siege of Harfleur.
Hal reaches King Charles VI, who offers his surrender, makes him his heir, and offers him the hand of his daughter Catherine of Valois. Hal returns to England with his new wife for the celebrations. In private, she challenges his reasons for invading France and denies the supposed French actions against Hal, suggesting the assassin was a plot from within his own court. Suspicious, Hal confronts Gascoigne, who confesses that he had staged the insult and acts of aggression and declares that true peace comes only through victory. In cold fury, Hal stabs Gascoigne in the head, killing him, and returns to Catherine, asking that she promise to always speak the truth to him, as clearly as possible.
- Timothée Chalamet as “Hal”, King Henry V of England.
- Joel Edgerton as Sir John Falstaff.
- Robert Pattinson as Louis, The Dauphin.
- Sean Harris as Chief Justice Sir William Gascoigne.
- Steven Elder as Lord Dorset.
- Ben Mendelsohn as King Henry IV of England.
- Dean-Charles Chapman as Prince Thomas.
- Lily-Rose Depp as Catherine of Valois.
- Thomasin McKenzie as Queen Phillippa of Denmark.
- Thibault de Montalembert as King Charles VI of France.
- Edward Ashley as Earl of Cambridge.
- Stephen Fewell as Lord Grey.
- Tara Fitzgerald as Nell Hooper.
- Andrew Havill as Archbishop of Canterbury.
- Tom Glynn-Carney as Sir Henry “Hotspur” Percy.
- Tom Fisher as Earl of Northumberland.
- Tom Lawrence as Earl of Westmorland.
- Ivan Kaye as Lord Scrope.
- Harry Trevaldwyn as Dartmouth.
- Tom Lacroix as The Assassin.
In 2013, it was revealed that Joel Edgerton and David Michôd had collaborated on writing an adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Henriad” plays, Henry IV, Parts 1 & 2 and Henry V, for Warner Bros. Pictures. In September 2015, it was announced that Michôd would direct the project, with Warner Bros. producing and distributing the film, and Lava Bear producing.
In February 2018, Timothée Chalamet joined the cast, with Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, and Jeremy Kleiner producing, alongside Liz Watts, under their Plan B Entertainment banner. Ultimately, Netflix distributed the film instead of Warner Bros. In March 2018, Edgerton joined the cast of the film. In May 2018, Robert Pattinson, Ben Mendelsohn, Sean Harris, Lily-Rose Depp, Tom Glynn-Carney, and Thomasin McKenzie joined the cast; Dean-Charles Chapman joined in June.
Principal photography began on 01 June 2018 and wrapped on 24 August. Filming took place throughout England and at Szilvásvárad, Hungary. Many scenes were filmed on location at Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire, England. Lincoln Cathedral was used in place of Westminster Abbey for the coronation scenes.
The film’s original score was composed by Nicholas Britell, who thought of approaching the film’s music from the 25th century, instead of the medieval 15th century approach, saying “because of the timelessness of these issues, if felt like something that we could explore with the sound of different time periods, just to make you look at the early 1400’s in a way that it felt like you hadn’t seen it before”. He felt that the “1400s looks like it was a foreign planet”. He experimented the film’s music using bass clarinets run with tape filters, and sounds of metal while composing. It was Britell’s most “dark and sombre” music reflecting the zone of the film. Lakeshore Records released the album consisting of 15 tracks from Britell’s score, on 01 November 2019 in digital and CD formats, while the vinyl edition was released three years later on 8 July 2022.
The film had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival on 02 September 2019. It screened at the BFI London Film Festival on 03 October 2019, and received a limited release on 11 October 2019 before being released on Netflix, for digital streaming, on 01 November 2019.
The film was criticised for being widely inaccurate to both reality and the Shakespearean play. Being loosely based on several works by Shakespeare, the film contains many of the same ahistorical dramatisations and biases as its source material, including the introduction of some wholly-fictional characters and episodes as well as mischaracterisations of historical persons, not the least of which being Henry himself. Portrayed as a perpetually-inebriated sullen ne’er-do-well, Henry of Monmouth was in real life so engaged and experienced in battle that he almost died from an arrow to the face, which was subtly referenced by the facial scar he wears in the film. Like the 16th-century plays, the film was met with criticism by historians, with Christophe Gilliot, the director of the French museum Azincourt 1415, suggesting it has “Francophobe tendencies”.
The following is a non-exhaustive list of the most important historical inaccuracies present in the film that do not correspond to reality according to Gilliot:
- King Henry V was neither humanist nor pacifist. The real Henry V was known to be bellicose, aggressive and warlike. The war against France was not solely the result of a plot against the King but also a continuity of the foreign policy of his ancestors, who claimed the rights of the English crown to the throne of France. Henry wanted to establish his legitimacy and reduced the population of Rouen to starvation during the siege of the city from July 1418 to January 1419, which killed 35,000 in six months.
- William Gascoigne was not killed by Henry V but dismissed by him from the start of his reign for being considered too close to his father.
- Henry V never gave up his responsibilities as Prince of Wales, and it was not the death of his brother that pushed him to accept the crown. Furthermore, his brother Prince Thomas died not in Wales but during the Battle of Baugé in Anjou, France, eight years after Henry V’s coronation.
- The Dauphin of France, Louis de Guyenne, was not present at the Siege of Harfleur or the Battle of Agincourt. In addition, the film version of the character, interpreted by Robert Pattinson, is far from reality. Presented as an arrogant, silly and brutal character, the Dauphin, who died two months after the battle of Agincourt, was in fact a pious young man in fragile health.
- The Battle of Agincourt took place not in such a hilly and green place, as the film shows, but on fallow fields and plowing in the plains. In addition, it was the English who held the heights although the film suggests that it was the French.
- Falstaff, a fictional character, was of course not the strategist of the battle and neither took part in nor died at the battle.
- A crucial part of the English defence, the sharpened stakes, or palings, which were set at an angle towards the French cavalry to protect the archers, was almost entirely ignored in the film although there was a brief shot of a small pile of palings awaiting deployment.
- Chimes at Midnight, an adaptation of the Henriad into a single narrative by Orson Welles from 1965, and Henry V, fourth episode of the Shakespeare-based TV series The Hollow Crown from 2012, covering roughly the same material.
- The scene in which The Dauphin wants to fight Hal, but keeps slipping in the mud in his fancy armor was played by Robert Pattinson himself.
- A stuntman also did the scene, but Pattinson’s take turned out better.
- All characters existed in real life, except John Falstaff.
- In Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, William Shakespeare based Falstaff loosely on the historical Sir John Oldcastle, a companion of Prince Henry.
- He renamed the character because of Oldcastle’s powerful family.
- Timothée Chalamet stated that his funniest memory from filming was seeing Robert Pattinson vaping on set, in full armour and make-up.
- The scar on Henry’s cheek is historically accurate.
- The real Henry V was struck in the face by an arrow at the battle of Shrewsbury in 1403, when he was 16 years old.
- In the movie, it is the scene in which Henry fights Percy Hotspur.
- The arrow was removed, but it left a permanent scar.
- The battle of Agincourt was filmed in two weeks, with 300 men and 80 horses, in a field in Hungary.
- To achieve a muddy battlefield, the crew would let horses run over it.
- The weather was so hot that the mud kept drying up in between takes, so they moved the battlefield to the left and did the same process again.
- The Dauphin’s heavily French-accented English was intentional, to better insult and disrespect King Henry.
- David Michôd cast Robert Pattinson very early in the writing process because he needed the Dauphin to “pop out”, stating “I love how bold Rob is, I wanted him to go nuts with it. His whole purpose is to be a jerk and to just torment Hal. So I kind of needed him to be a larger-than-life jerk. He needed to be ridiculous. I just knew that he would want to sink his teeth into this character and that he would make it fun.”
- Only one portrait exists of Henry V with a bowl haircut.
- By coincidence, Timothée Chalamet’s real middle name is also Hal: Timothée Hal Chalamet.
- Timothée Chalamet and the cast spent several weeks training in horse-riding and sword-fighting.
- Joel Edgerton’s first role out of drama school in Sydney was Prince Hal.
Production & Filming Details
- David Michôd.
- Joel Edgerton … producer.
- Dede Gardner … producer.
- Ildiko Kemeny … co-producer.
- Jeremy Kleiner … producer.
- David Michôd … producer.
- David Minkowski … co-producer.
- Christina Oh … executive producer.
- Anita Overland … co-producer.
- Brad Pitt … producer.
- Sylvia Warmer … associate producer: Porchlight Films.
- Liz Watts … producer.
- David Michôd.
- Joel Edgerton.
- Nicholas Britell.
- Adam Arkapaw.
- Peter Sciberras.
- Plan B Entertainment.
- Porchlight Films.
- Blue-Tongue Films.
- Pioneer Stilking Films.
- Netflix (2019) (USA) (theatrical).
- Netflix (2019) (Brazil) (video) (VOD).
- Netflix (2019) (Greece) (TV).
- Netflix (2019) (Singapore) (video).
- Release Date: 02 September 2019 (Venice Film Festival, Italy).
- Running Time: 140 minutes.
- Rating: 15.
- Country: UK.
- Language: English.