Yeah, right! The King (2019)
WARNING: THIS WHOLE ARTICLE IS ONE BIG SPOILER
A little while back, I wrote an article on the value of historical cinema, even when it is bizarrely inaccurate and misleading in terms of the facts. I argued that by introducing times and places perhaps unknown to viewers and, maybe, encouraging study of what really happened, films, with their power to excite and engage, can be very valuable in promoting the learning of history.
But there is a line.
The King, available on Netflix, is utter bullshit. At points it makes Braveheart look like an Oxbridge doctoral monograph. The sheer audacity of the producers in deliberately messing with historical accuracy deserves some respect, if only because they must have known and given zero shits about the flak they might receive. However, at times this film just takes the piss.
First up, what does it actually have going for it? Well, actually a fair bit. It looks nice, with good set and costume design. The cinematography is very good and brings a real richness to the locations and events. Performances are good, particularly from Timothée Hal Chalamet (with that middle name, this was surely the role he was born to play). I can say with some confidence that his is the best English accent I have ever heard from an American actor, so good work there.
Aaaaand, now the not so good stuff.
Prince Hal (future Henry V) is a drunken waster who spends most of his time getting battered with his mate Falstaff (entirely fictional Shakespeare character crowbarred in for no good reason) and having sex. He doesn’t get on with his dad, Henry IV, and states that he has no desire to be king.
Henry was an extremely pious, serious individual who gradually moved power away from his father, which caused a good measure of friction between the two. He was driven by a belief in the divine righteousness of his cause, a belief which did not disappear later. Here he barely does anything religious at all. Aside from two shots of him having a brief pray, his interests appear to be entirely secular, something which actually seems to go for every other character as well. Changing the character does make some sense, as an entirely modern Hal is probably a more interesting protagonist than a boring, bellicose religious fundamentalist, but it is simply not true. On a more forgivable note, the haircut change was a good move. He starts out with Floppy Hero Hair™, and then gets a good short-back-and-sides once he becomes king. The producers obviously did not want their hero to look like an utter twat:
Next up, Henry goes to war with France after an apparent assassination attempt. Nope, didn’t happen. The invasion was just one more in the Hundred Years War, driven by Henry’s conviction that his right to the throne of France was blessed by God. Again, rather less appealing to have your main character do that from a modern perspective, but again, wrong.
One on One
At two points in the film, Hal has a one on one fight with an opponent to decide the outcome of a battle without further bloodshed. First up is Henry ‘Hotspur’ Percy, who Hal bumps off with a dagger in the throat and then everybody goes home.
Hotspur died at the Battle of Shrewsbury. Which was a BATTLE!!! He got an arrow in the face, which is a pretty badass way to go out.
Next up is the Dauphin, a slimy prick who makes jokes about Henry’s cock and then has a small boy’s head cut off and hands it to another boy to deliver. This is the Dauphin. Heir to the French throne. Apparently he doesn’t have enough men around to go and slaughter kids, so he has to do it himself. Then, after the battle he confronts Henry and challenges him to a duel. He falls over in the mud like a muppet, then gets stabbed to death by Henry’s followers.
The Dauphin was a sickly person, who never met Henry, was not at the Battle of Agincourt and died of illness a few months later. There is also no reason to suspect he was an oily dick.
There is a lot more, actually. Henry takes the throne because his brother dies on campaign in Wales, which did not happen. He kills his advisor and supporter for betraying him, which also did not happen.
But there is one thing above all else that lets this film down in a big way.
So, you’ve been given a load of money to make a film about the life and exploits of King Henry V. You want to bring him to life and show why he was so respected at the time and became a figure by which warlike English kings would be measured. So. How it is possible that you could fuck up the Battle of Agincourt?
Agincourt is arguably the most famous English battle not only of the Hundred Years War but of the whole of the Late Middle Ages. It is so famous that idiots occasionally turn up at England vs France football matches with Agincourt written on their knight outfits. So how can you bugger it up?
Agincourt was the apotheosis of the archer, the peak of the English Arrow Storm’s success. Henry’s heavily outnumbered army was almost entirely made up of archers. They tore the French forces to bits before anybody actually came face to face on the field. Research has suggested that at points they may have been firing up to one thousand arrows A SECOND.
So what do we get here? Two volleys of arrows from about fifty blokes. Before this, Falstaff has already led troops down to draw out the French, getting killed in the process. After the second lame volley of arrows, Hal and his troops go piling in and get into a whopping Battle of the Bastards ruck. Then they win.
HOW?! HOW?! HOW?! WHY?! WHY?!
The whole thing that made Henry’s victory so remarkable (and possible) was the manner in which it was planned and executed. The decision to send forward his thousands of archers first was what saved the army and allowed the English to carry the day. It was what shocked Europe. That Day of the Archers, while not the first time it had happened, was what made the battle remarkable. Here it is another big messy film battle with folk falling over in mud a lot. They also somehow forgot to put in Henry’s reported brave save of his brother Duke Humphrey, which was a bit of a shame.
So there you have it. I like a good bullshitty historical film as much as the next person, but this was so damn silly I just didn’t know what to say by the end.
As a cinematic experience: ***