- Katherine McLaughlin
- 3 October 2019
LFF 2019: David Michôd is behind this ambitious but uneven take on the Henriad plays
With 2010's Animal Kingdom, Australian director David Michôd announced himself as a bold new voice, picking apart anger and masculinity with a palpable intensity. That film also provided Ben Mendelsohn with his international breakthrough, and he briefly appears as Henry IV in the director's latest, an ambitious reworking of William Shakespeare's Henriad plays. Beginning at the end of Henry IV's life, this adaptation concludes with events just after the Battle of Agincourt.
The protagonist is Henry V, played by young heartthrob Timothée Chalamet. He shows impressive range as reluctant ruler 'Hal', who cedes his playboy lifestyle when he takes the throne. He is eventually provoked into waging war with The Dauphin of France (Robert Pattinson), despite leaning towards pacifism. Joel Edgerton, who co-wrote the screenplay with Michôd, plays John Falstaff with a little nod to Orson Welles's turn in Chimes at Midnight but he makes the role his own as the film progresses, his tormented soldier a mix of amusingly gruff and genuinely affecting.
When Pattinson appears on screen, doing an awful French accent that he may have learnt from watching John Malkovich's turn as Pascal Sauvage in Johnny English, things take a turn for the worse. His comical role is about as nuanced as Malkovich's, and thus memorable for all the wrong reasons. Considering the giant fandoms Pattinson and Chalamet have amassed, it's tempting to read their squabbles in the dirt as comment on their shifting sex symbol statuses. At any rate, it feels like stunt casting.
Michôd fails to draw out the anguish of his young monarch's coming-of-age in a brutal setting with as much vigour as his debut. What he does achieve, however, is an intermittently compelling treatise on the consequences of war, as he examines the way Hal gets swallowed up in its machinations, despite his best efforts. The superbly directed mud-and-guts battle at Agincourt speaks volumes on the savagery of conflict, even if the overall film strikes a disappointingly uneven tone.
Screening on Thu 3, Fri 4 and Sun 6 Oct as part of the BFI London Film Festival 2019. Selected cinematic release from Fri 11 Oct and on Netflix from Fri 1 Nov.