The King is a 2019 historical drama film based on several plays from William Shakespeare‘s “Henriad“. It is directed by David Michôd, written by Michôd and Joel Edgerton, and stars Timothée Chalamet, Joel Edgerton, Sean Harris, Lily-Rose Depp, Robert Pattinson, and Ben Mendelsohn.
It had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival on 2 September 2019 and was released on 11 October 2019 in selected theatres before being put up for digital streaming on 1 November 2019 by Netflix.
Henry, Prince of Wales (called “Hal” by his close friends) is the emotionally distant eldest and wastrel son of King Henry IV of England. Hal is uninterested in his father’s war policies and in succeeding him, 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 instead of Hal. Thomas is sent to subdue Hotspur‘s rebellion but is upstaged by the arrival of Hal, who engages Hotspur in single combat. The sword fight descends into an armoured fistfight, and Hal kills Hotspur with a dagger. Although this decides the battle without further conflict, Thomas complains that Hal has stolen all the glory. Not long afterward, Thomas dies in a battle in Wales.
Henry IV dies in his bed with Hal present, and Hal is crowned King Henry V. Hal is determined not to be like his father, and opts for peace and conciliation with his father’s adversaries, despite his actions being seen as weakness. At his coronation feast, the Dauphin of France sends Hal a ball, as an insulting and emasculating coronation gift; however, Hal chooses to frame this as a positive reflection of his boyhood before being crowned. His sister Philippa, now the Queen of Denmark, cautions that nobles in any royal court have their own interests in mind and will never reveal their full truths.
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 the young king that a show of strength is necessary to unite England, so to prove his competency, 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, with Hal at the forefront and Falstaff as his marshal. After successfully taking Harfleur, they continue on the campaign but are followed by the Dauphin, who repeatedly tries to provoke Hal. The English advance parties stumble upon a huge French army gathering to face them. Dorset advises Hal to retreat, due to the superiority of the French forces, but Falstaff proposes a false advance to lure the French to rush forward into the mud, 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 flanking force hidden in the nearby woods.
Hal goes to the Dauphin and offers to fight in single combat to decide the outcome of the battle, but the Dauphin refuses. The Battle of Agincourt commences, with Hal in the thick of the fighting. Falstaff’s plan works, and the outnumbered English army overpowers the French, although Falstaff is killed on the front lines. The Dauphin enters the fray to challenge Hal, but is humiliated and easily defeated. Hal orders all the French prisoners executed for fear that they might regroup, an order that Falstaff had refused to carry out before the battle.
Following the decisive victory, the English continue deeper into France. Hal reaches King Charles VI, who offers his surrender and the hand of his daughter Catherine. Hal returns to England with his new wife for the celebrations. He comes to her room to have a conversation, and she challenges his reasons for invading France. She denies that the French assassin and the insult originated from her father or her brother, and dismisses Hal when he falls back on echoing the sentiments of others, sentiments Hal had dismissed earlier in the campaign. Hal realizes that the supposed French insult and acts of aggression against England were staged by Gascoigne to goad Hal into war. Hal confronts Gascoigne and confirms his suspicions, and an unashamed Gascoigne declares that peace comes only through victory. In cold fury, Hal kills Gascoigne and returns to Catherine, promising to only ever ask that she speak the truth to him.