Thursday, 27 February 2020

Movie review: The King, dir David Michod (2019)

Basing a film on three Shakespeare plays is, for a start, a ploy fraught with danger. There was, in actual fact, a revolt led by Hotspur but Hal’s brother Thomas died of natural causes, not fighting in Wales. I also have on good authority that there was no one-on-one combat with the dauphin at Agincourt. Shakespeare, my source says, “was a Tudor propagandist,” so everything in his plays is debatable.

And on top of that, here you have a Hollywood production including writers, producers, and a director who are looking to create an engaging story. So this film is mostly fiction, loosely based on random facts chosen for their dramatic relevance rather than for their historical accuracy.

The screenplay was written by the director and actor Joel Edgerton (an Australian and an American; Edgerton adeptly plays Falstaff in this film). While I’m not an expert in 15th century English politics, I might have asked someone in the know – a historian or some such other scholar – for advice before venturing into the regions the filmmakers try to make their home for a while.

This film is classic Hollywood, depending, as it does, on a good guy (Henry V) and a bad guy (I won’t give away the ending by telling you who it is). At the end, you have a sudden eclaircissement due to the good offices of the daughter of the king of France, Catherine of Valois (Lily-Rose Depp), who tells Henry things he would have wanted to know earlier, but didn’t. The use of decisive plot elements like this – Falstaff’s plan for the Battle of Agincourt is one, but there are others – serve to whittle down the scope of the drama to a simple, unambiguous thread, one shorn of the messy business of real life, so I wasn’t unduly moved by this film.

The settings, furthermore, are dreary and predictable – there is little of the pizzazz and glamour of the House of Lancaster – and medieval London looks dull if not hellish, which isn’t hard to do, is unsurprising, and is not much fun for the viewer.

Michod is famous for the disgusting ‘Animal Kingdom’ (2010), which I didn’t finish watching because parts of it were too vile to countenance, so it seems he has toned down the objectionable parts of his personality and replaced them with merely pedestrian ones.

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