'The King' on Netflix Director on How He Brought the Battle of Agincourt to Life

Netflix has now released The King, its new imagining of Henry V starring Timothee Chalamet as the bowlcut-sporting English king. As any Shakespeare fans know, the Henry V story reaches its peak of excitement during the Battle of Agincourt, the battle between Henry's troops and those of the French dauphin, memorably played in the new movie by Robert Pattinson.

The King's vision of Agincourt is also the film's highlight, as it takes an entirely new approach to the battle. Whereas other versions of Henry V have shown the fight as a moment of epic glory for the English, director David Michôd stages the battle as a brutal bloody mess, where the fighting masses are indistinguishable from each other and there is no glory to be found on either side.

In fact, there is more humiliation than glory to be found in the Netflix film's battle, with the dauphin getting a particularly mortifying ending as he is shown unable to stop slipping in the mud in his fancy armour until Henry stops him with a swiftly-delivered sword. Despite appearing in full body armour, Michôd revealed to Newsweek that Pattinson insisted on doing this stunt himself.

"We got a stuntman to do it and we got Rob to do it. And Rob being the great actor he is, he was the winner," he said.

the king timothee chalamet agincourt
Timothée Chalamet in the Agincourt scenes of "The King" on Netflix. Netflix

For the director, this moment of almost slapstick comedy was central to his vision of Agincourt. He said: "By that point in the movie, it would appear that they're gearing up to have a one on one duel, and I felt very strongly that I'd seen enough fighting by that point. It wouldn't be the most satisfying way to bring that particular battle to a close, and more importantly it put the perfect button on Rob's character's pathetic emptiness."

Pattinson's role has been picked apart by a number of critics, who have accused the actor of being too cartoonish (literally in some cases, with many comparing his accent to Looney Tunes' Pepé Le Pew). However, for the director, this was partly the point.

"That character needed to be fun," he said. "He enters the movie about an hour in, shift the movie's gears. Rob's sole purpose in the movie is to be just an object of pure, almost shallow antagonism. He's meant to just annoy."

Where other visions of Agincourt were achieved over many weeks using thousands of extras, Michôd had just two weeks, 300 men and 80 horses in a field in Hungary to bring his vision of the historical battle to life. If that was not hard enough, the scene required a giant muddy battlefield, but it was so hot that the mud kept drying up in between takes.

"There's really nothing that could prepare me for that complex mix of heat and mud and discomfort," the director said of that fortnight's shoot.

After "many meetings" about how to make the mud, they decide on the simple solution of soaking the ground and then having the stunt co-ordinator run horses over it. However, "in the heat it would bake and then and get disgusting with all the people and horses and stuff moving around it. So we would just move the whole thing over the left of it and do the same thing again. By the end of those those two weeks, we had made a monumental mess in that field in Hungary!"

The muddy morass that Michôd makes of the Battle of Agincourt was a central part of his whole reason for taking on the Henry V story, despite it having already been brought to film by legends like Laurence Olivier, Orson Welles and Kenneth Branagh, in 2019, a time when when the rampant nationalism of the play feels uncomfortable.

"Timmy's [Timothée Chalamet] speech before the battle was one of the keys for us. We wanted to have our cake and eat it, to let Timmy deliver a speech that is very rousing and deliver this nationalist sentiment powerfully, but undermine it by kind of making him doubt his commitment to it the night before."

"That unlocked how we get to this point where we're fighting this battle and making it clear that we know that on some level it's illegitimate, and yet still be laying the groundwork for it to be moving."

The King is streaming now on Netflix

'The King' on Netflix Director on How He Brought the Battle of Agincourt to Life | Culture