One thing is certain about this gloomy, low-key, decidedly modern take on Henry V: Timothée Chalemet is a future superstar, and his performance here in the title role has me so intensely excited for Villeneuve’s Dune next year that its almost painful knowing that film is still over a year away. If his Paul Atreides is as dark and moody and charismatic as his young Hal here, we will be in for something truly special. He can hold the viewers attention with a frown or a stare, and is surprisingly adept physically considering his slender boyish frame- he commands the film in every scene he is in, holding his own despite the great cast that threatens to steal the film from him.
If only the film was the sum of its parts. Certainly, it looks great, with beautiful cinematography and excellent art direction and set design. It sounds even better, with an absolutely gorgeous score by Nicholas Britell that deserves Oscar attention but will no doubt be ignored. It runs over two hours so never feels particularly rushed, the editing as deft as one could hope for, giving the scenes time to breathe, and the performances opportunity to shine. As for those performances, Chalemet as I’ve noted is excellent, but he is ably supported by a terrific cast – Ben Mendelssohn, Joel Edgerton, Sean Harris, all in very fine form. This film should be great.
But something seems missing. I suspect its the fault of a script that really fails to ignite, but also feel that the choice may be deliberate- this film could easily have descended into the formulaic theatrics of Braveheart or Gladiator or so many other stirring historical epics that sweep people away with spectacle and stirring words and OTT performances. This film is very low-key, a gloomy, almost melancholic take on material many will be familiar with, albeit more sincere adaptations of the bard. I would imagine its an attempt to be fresh and ‘new’ but it ironically works against it.
It’s a difficult thing, sometimes, having seen so many films, I’m certain it colours my perception of new films, possibly unfairly. Someone younger than twenty, say, coming to this film having seen few if any historical dramas might come away absolutely impressed and overwhelmed in a very positive way. A whole new generation might connect with this film in ways I cannot fathom, seeing things in Chalemet’s performance that reflects the modern world and how their generation sees it through this tale of a distant past. Something, for me, was missing, however, and I’ve been quite perturbed by it. There’s possibly nothing as frustrating as a good film that might have been truly great. Nothing quite as puzzling as trying to find what is missing and not being certain. As I’ve noted, I suspect its really a matter of the script and its focus on keeping things realistic and reducing the tendency for theatrics. I applaud the intent but wonder if it was ill-judged, but in any case, I am sure I will return to this film again, and that’s not something you can often say about Netflix Originals.