History student reviews The King

The King – Steven Elder, Timothée Chalamet, Sean Harris – Photo Credit: Netflix

The film is an adaption of Shakespeare’s group of historical plays called The Henriad.

The King tells the story of Hal – the future King Henry V played by Timothée Chalamet – a rebellious prince who enjoyed the company of petty criminals, a depiction which draws on exaggerations of Prince Henry’s supposed youthful behaviour – Hal’s cynicism has been widely discussed by critics.

Young Henry turned his back on royal life; possibly due to father and son conflict? but when his tyranical father dies (Henry IV), he is crowned King and must embrace the royal life – no more bevies for you, young Hal!

But in all seriousness – Is The King a true story?

Yes and no.

It’s loosely based on true events; the film itself is an adaption of Shakespeare’s play The Henriad, which dramatised British monarchs of the 15th century.

The film presents a vision of the late medieval world that has been potrayed in plentry of drama adaptions: a plague infested era, full of random violence and grisly deaths.

Netflix Original film is set in the first two decades of the 15th century. We open with long haired ‘Hal’, and follow his reluctant accession to the throne; his French campaigns, victory at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 and peace with France due to his marriage to French princess Catherine Valois (Lilly-Rose Depp) in 1420.

Who Was Henry V?

(Photo: Netflix)
Photo: Netflix

Henry was one of the most renowned kings in English history, who led two successful invasions of France. His portrayal in Shakespeare’s plays made him a paragon of English spirit and chivalry.

Little known fact – Henry was not born a Prince, but instead found himself in line to the throne because his father, Henry of Bolingbroke, impriosned Richard II, and took the throne.

King Henry died March 1413. Upon his fathers death, Hal was crowned Henry V at Westminster Abby. It was believed that the ceremony was disrupted by a sandstorm, leaving much of the public believing the freakish weather was a bad omen – mostly because of their suspicious nature and simple minds.

Henry V was a popular King, winning the favour of the public, he did not stand for any opposition, executed those who stood in his way.

In the plays and at the beginning of this movie, Prince Hal was portrayed as hedonistic and irresponsible, a bit of a lad who spends most of his time with Falstaff (played by Joel Edgerton).

Historically, there is little evidence to suggest this was the sort of lifestyle young Henry led. IN FACT! there was no Falstaff, a character Shakespeare concoted for a medieval bromance.

He was a combination of Sir John Falstaff (soldier of the Hundred Years War , who fled and thus was known as a coward) and rebellious Lollard John Oldcastle, with whom Henry was believed to be pals – but executed him anyway.

The film portrays ‘Falstaff’ as Henry’s mentor and ironically military tactician, one of the last trusten allies the King has. A theme of The King is how monarchs have no friends, “only followers and foes” and how his advisors seek control by manipulating him.

The only disinterested advice the King recieved was from the women in his life: his sister Phillippa and wife, Catherine of Valois, both who had brief cameos in the movie. This reflects that noblewomen were political operators too, and their counsel was valued.

Indeed, queens had vital roles as occasional regents, negotiating with their clashing relatives. But that Hal listens to these women is misleading. Historical Hal denied his wife of any political influence, actually not one was invited for honest counsel.

“Henry was the sort of King who locked up his own stepmother on charges of witchcraft to get his hands on her estates.”

Lauren Johnson (Historian: specialism 15th and 16th century)
A portrait of King Henry V of England.
Henry V

Pacifist Hal? and the Battle of Agincourt:

Deluded historians and Shakespeare romanticised Henry V: he has been mythicized as a great man – charming, wooing, gracious and an English hero. Wrong. He was brutal and committed many atrocities. During the bloody Battle of Agincourt (which we shall get into shortly) he ordered the death of every male over twelve! either having their throat slit or head crushed by a sledgehammers. Nonetheless, his victories allowed the English to claim the French throne. In the minds of many historians, Henry’s achievements outweighed the brutality.

Timothee Chalamet’s attractively boyish Henry condemns his fathers warmongering and only invades France after enduring threats and assassination attempts – HA! if only he knew …

Pacifism was better suited to Henry’s son, Henry VI, who never raised a sword in anger. Henry V, by contrast, as discussed, was a brutal soldier. He did not hesitate to starve innocent citizens to death during the siege of Rouen, nor massacring prisoners at Agincourt.

The King: Release Date, Trailer and Details on Netflix Shakespeare ...

The Battle of Agincourt (25th October 1415) was a defining moment of Henry’s reign, and marking a significant victory for Britain during the 100 Years War.

The conflict with France began because Henry wanted to reclaim England’s traditional right to the French throne. Henry led the charge into battle and participated in hand-to-hand fighting, despite being largely outnumbered.

Moments before we see the battle on the big screen, the film invents a scene in which *spoilers* the French force English boys to murder their own before being massacred, many critics were outraged.

Historian Christopher Gilliot complained that the film was rife with historical untruth, including the suggestion that the battle took place in the moutains – Agincourt was flat.

Robert Pattinson's french accent in The King is being roasted on ...

On a more lighter note; a highlight for me was Robert Pattison, who played the chaotic Dauphin of France. While scrolling through Youtube comments, I found many were baffled by Pattisons French accent – some said it was perfect while others sait it was outrageous. All I know is that it was appreciated. He has a small role to play, but The Dauphin steals his few scenes. He brings humour to a intentionally serious film.

Despite The Dauphins flamboyancy on screen, its not accurate. The film shows the fictional Louis take part in the bloody Battle of Agincourt; he was present in the background, to send his troops into battle. However, he wouldn’t fight. It would only be at the end when he realised he was losing, that he would take Henry V up on his offer of a one-on-one battle. *spoliers* he died, he slipped in the mud, Hal was not in a forgiving mood, Hal’s men stabbed the Dauphin to death – pity. This makes for a slighlty anticlimactic ending to what was supposed to be Britians most memorable battles.

Alas! this wasn’t real. The Dauphin wasn’t present at the Battle of Agincourt. There’s no record of him being there, and the army was led by Constable Charles d’Albret. While Louis remained at home with his father, dying of dysentary.

Overall, I did enjoy this film, especially the beautiful cinematography, costuming,weaponry, locations, actors, etc! but for some I understand it might have been a boring watch. It’s far from perfect, but not a bad film! I’ve always been a huge fan of Timothee Chalamet, so I feel i’m being biased but he played the role of Henry V brilliantly.

It’s a clever reimagining of a well-known story, but with historical inaccuracies – films aren’t meant to educate, but entertain.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

4 thoughts on “History student reviews The King

Add yours

  1. Not usually a History fan but this was a good read overall. I will now be adding this film to my list! Appreciated the warning of the spoiler alert – haha!

    Cheers Jodie!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aww thanks so much Tom! I really appreciate that. I’m so glad. I can recommend a few more if you like? Oh no problem, I have been informed in the past to warn people before dropping a bombshell on them 😂


  2. If looks could kill perhaps Robert Pattinson might’ve avoided the multiple stabbings! Good read, nice pointing out of inaccuracies although as you say entertainment is probably the goal more than anything. Speaking of inaccuracies I’m still waiting for a film that depicts an English king with one of the atrocious bowl cuts they seem to always have in portraits – guess it’s just not the Hollywood way?

    Liked by 1 person

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