The King is a 2019 historical film directed by David Michod.
It is a loose—very loose—adaptation of William Shakespeare's "Henriad" plays, namely, Henry IV, Part 1, Henry IV, Part 2, and Henry V. While it includes some plot elements from the plays (the gift of tennis balls, Henry having a drinking buddy named Falstaff), it uses none of Shakespeare's dialogue and changes several other plot points.
Henry, Prince of Wales—aka "Prince Hal"— (Timothée Chalamet) loathes his father King Henry IV (Ben Mendelsohn) and has no interest in reigning over England, instead spending his time drinking and whoring in the slum of Eastcheap. His main companion in drinking is Sir John Falstaff (Joel Edgerton, who also co-wrote the screenplay), who is not the Lovable Coward of Shakespeare's plays, but a brave warrior and canny military strategist who has fallen on hard times.note
His father is so disgusted by his dissolute son that he tabs Prince Henry's younger brother Thomas for the succession. That's fine with Hal, who regards his father as an incompetent tyrant who has brought strife and ruin to England. But when Thomas is killed fighting the Welsh (Henry IV being the sort of king who generates rebellions all over the place), and Henry IV dies soon after, Prince Hal becomes Henry V by default.
The new king takes pains to end the civil strife of his father's reign, pardoning all rebels and generally letting bygones be bygones. But Henry's desire for peace is thwarted by the continued provocations of the Dauphin, heir to the throne of France (Robert Pattinson). The Dauphin, scornful of Henry V as a callow youth and ridiculing the claim of English kings to the throne of France, sends Henry a "gift" of tennis balls upon Henry's coronation. Then he sends an assassin, who winds up defecting to the English. Henry declines to rise to this bait, but when Henry's chief counselor William Gascoigne (Sean Harris) uncovers a plot backed by the Dauphin to overthrow Henry, the king's patience runs out and he declares war on France. Henry takes an army to France and, after capturing the castle of Harfleur, meets the Dauphin and his army in battle at a place called Agincourt.
Other significant cast members include: Thomasin McKenzie (Philippa of Denmark—Hal's sister), Tom Glynn-Carney (Henry "Hotspur" Percy), Lily Rose Depp (Catherine of Valois), Dean-Charles Chapman (Thomas of Lancaster) and Tara Fitzgerald (Mistress Hooper).
- Adaptation Title Change: The King is a loose adaptation of William Shakespeare's "Henriad" plays (Henry IV Part 1, Henry IV Part 2 and Henry V).
- Adaptational Personality Change: Notable with the film's version of the two protagonists of the Henriad:
- Hal/Henry V's motivations are quite amorphous throughout the plays, as highlighted by the "I know you all" monologue in Henry IV, Part 1 (I.2.165-187). There is enough room to portray Henry as either a) a genuine Magnificent and Manipulative Bastard playing with his public image to suit his ends, plans and ambitions; or b) at least a well-meaning person very intuitive of the failings of human beings, trying to go above them and forge unities between them (while sometimes failing to do so). Cynical adaptations (like Chimes at Midnight) tend to favor A, straightforward adaptations (such as the classical Laurence Olivier and Kenneth Branagh versions) go with B, and more recent versions (like Tom Hiddleston's turn in The Hollow Crown) play with both. This film, for its part, veers very hard to B—to the extent that Henry even keeps Falstaff's friendship into much of his kingship—and is genuinely distraught when he dies in battle.note
- In the Henry IV plays, Falstaff is a Lovable Coward and rogue, a charming rascal, a Big Fun comic character. In this film Falstaff has fallen on hard times but still has his dignity, and in combat is both a brave fighter and a skilled strategist. Shakespeare's Falstaff runs for cover at the battle of Shrewsbury ("the better part of valor is discretion"), but in this movie Falstaff comes up with the plan that wins at Agincourt and personally leads the charge that opens the fighting. Again, though, this Falstaff may be more a reference to John Fastolf-who may himself have been some of the inspiration for Shakespeare's Falstaff but was neither old nor a coward.
- Anticlimax: In-Universe. After the English have crushed the French at Agincourt, the Dauphin comes up to Henry for single combat. He flourishes his sword dramatically and says "Come then, King of England." Henry readies himself to attack—and then the Dauphin slips and falls in the mud just like his knights did. He slips again and again and again as Henry watches. Finally Henry heaves a sigh and allows his men to jump on the Dauphin and finish him off.
- Armor Is Useless: Generally averted; swords are shown to bounce off it harmlessly while arrows and daggers have to go between the gaps, but maces, warhammers and pole weapons, while not ignoring it entirely, are shown to do damage through it with some effort. However, too much armor gets you slipping and sinking into the mud during a rainy day. The lightly armored English make quick work of the heavily armored French, especially after unhorsing them. French heavily armored cavalry had been defeated by more rag-tag, smaller English forces in the Hundred Years War several times, so it seems a case of Ignored Aesop.
- Arranged Marriage: Catherine of Valois and Henry V.
- Artistic License History: A lot, some taken from Shakespeare and some new for this movie. See article.
- Ascended Extra: An unnamed Lord Chief Justice appears as an antagonist of Falstaff in Henry IV, Part II. This character corresponds to Gascoignes time in office.
- Awesome Moment of Crowning: Henry V gets the whole nine yards, his head anointed with oil and everything.
- Battle in the Rain: Not at first, but the rain starts up again as the English and French are brawling in the mud. Henry V kills one Frenchman by drowning him in a puddle.
- Batman Gambit: Ultimately what the strategy for the Battle of Agincourt boils down to. The French, known to be contemptuous of English arms (despite the power of English archery), are raring for a chance to defeat them utterly. Thus, by Falstaff's reckoning, if the French (especially its armored cavalry and knights) could be deluded into attacking a seemingly-weaker force, they can be trapped with lighter-and-faster mail-equipped English infantry. This, however, requires the battlefield to turn muddy/boggy (which Falstaff correctly predicted). The best bit? Apart from some minor details, this is one of the things that are Truth in Television.
- Big Brother Instinct: Hal really doesn't have any interest in getting involved in his father's war campaigns until hearing his little brother Thomas (who had just been promoted to crown prince after Hal's disowning) has been instructed to battle the rebelling Hotspur.
- Binge Montage: An early montage shows Prince Hal and Falstaff drinking and partying in Eastcheap, swilling beer and wearing faux nuns' wimples on their head.
- Bittersweet Ending: Henry V is victorious at the battle of Agincourt, and is successful in negotiating himself as the next king of France after the death of Charles VI through Henry's marriage to Charles' daughter Catherine of Valois. However, Henry's close friend Sir John Falstaff is killed in the battle of Agincourt, then he discovers that to his horror, he was manipulated into making war against the French by one of own nobles simply because it was financially beneficial and it would acquire more lands for him. This results in Henry becoming cold and untrusting towards everyone (and he kills the traitorous advisor in retaliation), but he does ask his new bride Catherine of Valois to speak truthfully towards him about everything.
- Combat Pragmatist: The English. Truth in Television for the better part of the Hundred Years War.
- David Versus Goliath: The English army vs the much larger and better-equipped French army.
- Decapitation Presentation: Three boys from Henry's camp go into the woods for water. The Dauphin and his men ambush them and kill two. The third is then sent back to Henry's camp, carrying the severed head of another, just to show King Henry that the Dauphin really means business.
- Deconstruction: One can make the case that instead of simply being a Broad Strokes, Whole Plot Reference adaptation of William Shakespeare and his Henriad, the film is in fact this, due to its major plot change in the denouement: the fact that the English cause is not as noble as it has been portrayed—but in fact all due to politiciking, plotting, propaganda, deception and driven by profiteering. Instead of simply letting the ambiguity and potential self-contradictions of the Henry V story manifest (as has been done by contemporary literary and historical criticism), they in fact chose to highlight it front-and-center.
- Dramatic Irony: The Dauphin predicts to Henry that Agincourt will become famous as the site of the English's ignominious defeat. Any viewer familiar with the historical events will know that the Battle of Agincourt was a famous English victory.
- Drowning My Sorrows: Henry is racked with guilt after killing Hotspur at Shrewsbury, going back to Eastcheap and drinking until he throws up.
- False Flag Operation: It turns out that the French didn't send the tennis balls, they didn't send the assassin who supposedly defected to the English, and they didn't engage in conspiracy with Scrope and Cambridge to overthrow Henry V. All of that was a deliberate campaign by Gascoigne, who wanted war and the conquest of France, and eventually egged Henry into declaring war.
- Foreshadowing: The Dauphin is outraged at the suggestion that he should surrender, saying "You came to me!" This foreshadows how the Dauphin did not in fact make any of the provocative gestures that led Henry to declare war.
- French Jerk: The Dauphin is shown to be an arrogant preening jerkass who makes a point of speaking to Hal in accented English just so he can say how "simple and ugly" the English language is.
- From Nobody to Nightmare: In the eyes of the French, Henry was this.
- Frontline General: Henry, as is to be expected. Indeed, most of the English nobility (notably with the exception of Gascoigne) were seen to be fighting with their men on foot. What is notable, however, is that of all the characters, it is Falstaff who epitomized it with his sacrificial charge at Agincourt.
- Glory Hound: Thomas. Even though Henry proposes (and ultimately wins) a duel against Hotspur instead of clashing in battle, Thomas becomes extremely dejected at his glory being taken away even though Henry saved his life and that of his men from needlessly dying in a battle. His next attempt to gain glory gets himself killed offscreen.
- Heir Club for Men: Contested. The French royals base their claim to the French throne on this trope. They were descended from a nephew of Philip IV of France, who ruled a century earlier. This while the English claim of succession can also go through the female line. Henry V was descended from the only daughter of Philip IV. Under French Salic law, there can be no descent from the female line, though the English archbishop claims it doesn't apply (Henry is bored by the whole thing, and he clearly realizes it's just an excuse).
- Helmets Are Hardly Heroic: Falstaff gets bonked on the head during the Battle of Agincourt, so he promptly takes his dented helmet off, making him recognizable during the battle. He doesn't even keep his mail hood up.
- Heroic BSoD: In the aftermath of killing Henry Percy, Hal shuts down and drinks so much that he blacks out.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Ultimately, this is how Falstaff sees leading the false charge of armored knights to open the Battle of Agincourt. As he claims, he wouldn't sanction this opening feint he proposed without he himself seeing it through. Also, between the choice of dying of overdrinking and dishonor,note he'd rather have the nobler and more useful end. He succeeded at it.
- Historical Beauty Update: Henry V wasn't known for his looks.
- Historical Domain Character: All of them except for Falstaff, although this movie's Falstaff is way different from Shakespeare's Falstaff.
- Historical Villain Upgrade: Stories about William of Gascoigne point to him being a fair Chief Justice, and there is no evidence that he fabricated such a plot. He was also not killed by Henry.
- 100% Adoration Rating: Henry in England, after the battle of Agincourt. William points this out as well.
- Incurable Cough of Death: Henry IV's ill health is demonstrated in the opening scene by a persistent cough. He croaks soon after.
- Jerkass Has a Point: Surprisingly enough, the Dauphin. His dismissiveness of Henry's war agenda makes a whole lot of sense when it is revealed much of the casus belli of the English was orchestrated by Gascoigne. France, therefore, has the right of seeing it as an unwarranted act of aggression. Princess Catherine even spells it out to Henry that even her own mad father, King Charles VI, shares the sentiment.
- King on His Deathbed: It's different from most examples as Prince Henry is not exactly gentle with him.
- Large Ham: Director David Michod said of Robert Pattinson that "I just knew that he would want to sink his teeth into this character and that he would make it fun." Pattinson does in fact play a leering, sneering, arrogant villain in the Dauphin, which contrasts with the mostly serious portrayals delivered by the rest of the cast.
- Leave No Survivors: After Henry is told that they have a lot of French prisoners, too many to control, he says "Kill them all." This happened in Real Life at Agincourt and was very controversial. Henry supposedly feared that the French would attack again after a raid on the English baggage train.
- "Not So Different" Remark: During the negotiation on the terms of his surrender, King Charles states that both he and Henry are leaders of lands that got to their current positions in this meeting due to their relationship with their family (Henry with his father and Charles with his son).
- Oh, Crap!: The English rider who comes to the crest of a hill, looks down at the French army on the other side of the hill, and realizes that the French have a lot more soldiers.
- Precision F-Strike: Eventually, Henry gets tired of Gascoigne's bullshitting after Henry has caught him in a couple of lies. He screams "Stop the fucking charade!"
- The Quiet One: During a stressful moment on the way to Agincourt, a pissed-off Henry challenges Falstaff, saying that Falstaff was supposed to be his counselor and strategist in the war but has been mostly quiet the whole time. Falstaff shrugs and says "I speak only when there's something to be said." And so he does, later outlining for the others the strategy that the English will use at Agincourt.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Catherine gives one to Henry, clearing all the fog from his mind so that he realizes how he had been manipulated.
- Refusal of the Call: Henry is shown to be against war and does not want to be king. Both are not truth in television.
- The Reveal: The twist at the end is another change from Shakespeare's story. It turns out that the French weren't responsible for any of the provocations that eventually led Henry to declare war—not the plot with Cambridge, not the assassin, not even the gift of tennis balls. All that was arranged by Gascoigne, who wanted to trick Henry into war.
- Rousing Speech: Henry gives an immensely passionate speech to his troops before Agincourt, telling his men, "You are England!" and that they will make this piece of land England as well. It's completely different from Shakespeare's version in Henry V, since that is a rather hard act to follow.
- Royally Screwed Up: Charles VI. It is actually portrayed quite soberly compared to what they could have used from history. He was known to run around completely filthy and believing he was made of glass. Sometimes he wouldn't recognize his family. He also had lucid periods when he behaved more normal.
- Royals Who Actually Do Something: Henry works to better the country. He also leads the lightly armored infantry at Agincourt. He also kills quite a few of his enemies.
- Shown Their Work: Oddly mixed with Artistic License History. In Real Life, Prince Hal was shot in the face with an arrow at Shrewsbury. A skilled surgeon managed to pull out the arrow but Henry was left with a scar. In the movie Henry has a scar on his face in the shape of an arrowhead, though it is unexplained how he got it.
- Sibling Rivalry: Henry's little brother Thomas is intensely loyal to their father and hates his older brother. Henry for his part regards Thomas as being in over his head. Thomas is incensed when Henry shows up at Shrewsbury, a battle that Thomas was supposed to command, and challenges Hotspur to single combat.Thomas: Still you find it necessary to upstage me!
- Storming the Castle: Discussed, and ultimately averted. Dorset, who is presented as Falstaff's antagonist aka Guy Who Is Always Wrong, says they have to storm Harfleur because they are running out of time, and they need the castle to secure their supply lines as they advance. Falstaff half-heartedly agrees and Henry, who is reluctant to see his men slaughtered, is left unable to make a decision. The garrison of Harfleur surrenders soon after, apparently not being provisioned for a long siege (in Shakespeare's play they do storm the castle, which is when Henry delivers the "once more unto the breach!" Rousing Speech).
- The Strategist: Falstaff. The English are shocked to find out how badly they are outnumbered, and Dorset recommends that they turn around and retreat to the coast while they still have the chance. Falstaff however surveys the ground and comes up with a winning strategy. He notes that the bottom of the hill is spongy soil and after it rains that night (Falstaff can tell by his aching knee) it will turn into a muddy bog. He suggests that the English lead a decoy assault of armored men that will lure the French cavalry in the center, where everybody will get bogged down and stuck in the mud. Then, after the French knights are stuck in the mud, weighed down by their armor, the English soldiers will come out of the woods without armor, hit both French flanks, and destroy them all while longbows rain down chaos. It works.
- These Hands Have Killed: Henry gets good and drunk after killing Hotspur in single combat at Shrewsbury. Falstaff sympathizes with him, talking about how he always felt terrible after killing someone in battle.
- To the Pain: The Dauphin takes great pleasure in telling Henry how he'll make the king listen to the screams of his men being slaughtered, before he drains Henry of his blood and plants him under a tree.
- The Usurper: Discussed by Catherine when speaking with Henry, as she notes that he and her family in fact both descend from them, and so legally neither of them has a better claim, contrary to everything said from both sides.
- We Used to Be Friends: Henry is shocked to find out that his childhood friend the Earl of Cambridge is part of the conspiracy to overthrow him. He says "You were once my friend" before sending Cambridge off to be executed.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: Ultimately, William Gascoigne, Henry's chief adviser, claims to be this when it is revealed he staged the assassination attempt and the plot against Henry to drive him to war to France. Invoking that their victory at Agincourt has guaranteed the peace Henry so desires, he tries to weasel out of it. However, the fact that, mere minutes into the conversation, Henry realizes that Gascoigne has profited much from the wars of conquest undermines all this. He chooses to stab him in the nape.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Princess Catherine, in her first conversation with Henry V, openly deconstructs Henry's motivations for waging war with France (the assassin, proven to be false; the lineage of his family, dismissed as simply Might Makes Right; even the tennis balls —as petty as it does look like). She opines how, ultimately, his conquest seems to have no right/justice to it at all, and might in fact not hold.note
- Why Are You Not My Son?: In the opening scene, after Hotspur openly insults Henry IV at court and then stalks out, the king is impressed by Hotspur's nerve. Henry IV muses "If only he were my son." Cut to Prince Hal, passed out drunk at an Eastcheap inn.