In 1989, Kenneth Branagh adapted, directed and starred in the film Henry V, which is rightly considered one of the best film adaptations of Shakespeare’s works of all time. Such a popular historical figure certainly deserves its own modern version, so six years ago David Michôd and Joel Edgerton started with their version of the story. Michu has several films and the mini-series Catch-22 behind him, while Edgerton is a respected actor, who is increasingly involved in writing and directing. This film premiered at the Venice Film Festival, and Netflix bought the distribution rights.
Hal (Timothée Chalamet) is an unobtrusive prince and reluctant heir to the English throne, who has turned his back on his tyrant father Henry IV (Ben Mendelsohn) and the noble life, so he lives among the common people. After his father’s death, Hal is crowned King Henry V and is forced to accept the life and obligations he has been trying to escape. As a young king, he tries to find a balance in the politics of the court and to lead the war that his father left him. Without a person he can trust endlessly, he invites his old friend and mentor, the celebrated knight John Falstaff (Edgerton), to join him in an attack on France…
Some would say that the downside of screen adaptations of classic works like Shakespeare’s is that trying to make them better can only be pretentious. His story, in which a rebellious young man becomes the king of England, was given a clear narrative focus by the screenwriters. That focus is the transformation of our protagonist from a lover of alcohol and easy women to the unifier of England in the war against the French. Shakespeare’s transformation was milder, because his Hal knew he was born to be king, sure he would do the job to the best of his ability.
In this film, Hal neither wants the throne nor believes he has the ability to be a good ruler. He is trying to avoid his heritage, he is not interested in politics and has no intention of fighting the war his father started. On the other hand, Hal proved to be a capable warrior, which would soon lead him to participate in battle. He is not presented as some romantic hero, but it is obvious that he has gained doses of pride, arrogance and self-confidence, especially after receiving the crown.
In addition to ignoring the original dialogues, certain aspects of the characters were also changed, as with Falstaff, for example. In Shakespeare, he is a coward who likes to talk a lot, while here he is almost a sage, like a warrior who only talks when he thinks it is necessary. I believe that, among other things, it also serves as an indicator of Hal/Henry’s transformation, while he is sincere and kind to his friend, who has become the King of England through circumstances. One of the main questions of this film is whether Hal has transformed or if he was subconsciously waiting for an opportunity to show how similar he is to his father, especially in the chaos and heartlessness of war.
My conclusion is that the lack of originality in this case is not a minus, especially since the script is vivid, the film leaves a strong visual impression and the actors are at their level. Timothée Chalamet will certainly not come to your mind when the term war king is mentioned, but in this film he proves that he is one of the best young actors of today. I really liked the secondary role of Robert Pattinson (Robert Pattinson), who successfully got rid of the status of the star of teenage films and fought for the status of a serious actor, which Daniel Radcliffe, for example, cannot do at all.