When longtime friends and collaborators David Michôd and Joel Edgerton began writing the script for The King in 2013, they knew they had to approach the story through their own unique lens, blending historical fact and literary fiction to craft a fresh artistic take.
King Henry V, one of England’s most renowned monarchs who famously conquered the French at the
Battle of Agincourt, is a well-known historical figure — he’s the subject of Shakespeare’s timeless historical plays and two successful film adaptations.
But Michôd and Edgerton saw unexplored contemporary themes in young Hal’s story that spanned the 600 years between the 15th and 21st centuries. Together, they crafted a timely and innovative approach to the life and times of King Henry V.
Produced in partnership with Netflix, Plan B Entertainment, Porchlight Films, Yoki, Inc., and Blue-Tongue Films, The King is a modern story told through a period-authentic lens that examines the pitfalls of power, the cyclical brutality of war, and how the dangerous vanities of men reverberate through generations to come.
In The King, Hal (Timothée Chalamet) has spent years rejecting his royal responsibilities as heir to the English throne, instead choosing to live in the debauched neighborhood Eastcheap alongside his mentor and best friend, the washed-up alcoholic knight John Falstaff (Joel Edgerton). But when Hal’s father King Henry IV (Ben Mendelsohn) dies, the wayward prince is forced to leave behind his life in Eastcheap and return to the palace to reluctantly take his place as King of England.
Having spent much of his young life witnessing his father’s feuds and the futility of the wars that followed, the newly crowned King Henry V vows to bring peace to the country. But he quickly finds himself embroiled in the snake pit of palace politics he tried so desperately to escape, and is suddenly unsure who he can trust. Forced to begin a new chapter of his life before the last can be properly closed, Hal feels his idealism being strangled by the loneliness of power, a growing sense of paranoia, and looming threats from France.
Joel Edgerton, having played Hal on stage as a young man when he was fresh out of drama school in Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 1 , Part 2 and Henry V, was thrilled by the prospect of bringing the character to life on screen through a new interpretation.
He explains, “We decided to use Shakespeare’s plays as a launching pad, but somewhat depart from them. We’re using elements of true history, we’re borrowing from Shakespeare, and then we’re putting it through our own filter.”
Shakespeare’s plays and historical facts served as artistic fulcrums while Michôd and Edgerton focused on how to creatively swivel and bring a new angle to the well-known monarch’s story. They reworked the language and rebuilt the narrative.
Michôd recalls, “We were changing the story so much that we were basically starting this project from scratch. I think our version feels relevant because it speaks to the almost dysfunctional nature of the institutions of power today.”
Over the following years the script gained a great reputation across Hollywood, but Michôd and Edgerton couldn’t find the right producing partners to help get the project off the ground.
Meanwhile, both of their careers skyrocketed. In addition to their successful solo projects, the duo continued their creative collaborations on 2007’s short film Crossbow, 2010’s Animal Kingdom, and 2014’s The Rover.
In 2017, Michôd partnered with Plan B and Netflix to write and direct War Machine . The director formed a close relationship with Academy Award®-winning Plan B producers Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner. While filming War Machine, the producers brought up the script for The King.
Both Gardner and Kleiner had read the script before working with Michôd on War Machine — it was one of the reasons they were excited to partner with the director.
Kleiner says, “Reading the script for The King in its early incarnation made me even more eager to work with David on War Machine. I always remembered that script. There was something haunting about it; it’s a very modern look at power and masculinity. We all want to do better than the previous generation,
but so often we end up making the same mistakes. I always thought the script was amazing, and collaborating on this project with Joel and David frankly just felt like a dream come true.”
Gardner recalls, “Our collaboration on The King was so organic. Jeremy and I had read the script when it first made the rounds in Hollywood — it was a script that really traveled in the industry. We were on set for War Machine and Jeremy and I just asked David what was happening with the project. He walked us through the stops and starts the project had gone through over the years, and it all began to take shape. The timing just worked out. I really believe these things happen for a reason.”
Gardner and Kleiner were both attracted to the script’s timely themes. Gardner explains, “I admired that David and Joel didn’t just want to do a literal translation of the Shakespeare text. They were more interested in the ideas behind the words, and that made the story feel very modern to us. When we see things set in a different era, we assume that it’s not a story about us. But sometimes the best way to examine and talk about what’s happening right now is to go back to a different place in time. I want people to see the movie and recognize themselves, not something that they can store away as period trifle.”
Michôd also recruited Australian producer Liz Watts of Porchlight Films, with whom he has a long-standing relationship dating back to his 2010 feature film directorial debut Animal Kingdom, to join the film. Watts had also been familiar with The King script for years and, similarly to Gardner and Kleiner, had been immediately struck by how it tackled modern themes.
She says, “David has transformed a story set in the middle ages into something that is really relevant, and
feels fresh and young. It’s a firmly anti-war film, and it’s also about the inheritance of mistakes; Henry V repeats his father’s mistakes, and I think that that transference is very interesting, particularly in a world run by men. David’s films have always examined men’s hubris and their ability, or inability, to deal with power. This movie has a real relevance to what’s happening in the world right now, and asks really pertinent questions about masculinity and the privilege of that power.”
To bring the complex narrative to life on screen, Gardner and Kleiner suggested a continued partnership with Netflix. In addition to War Machine, the producers had previously partnered with Netflix on 2017’s Okja, which earned director Joonho Bong a Palme d’Or nomination at the Cannes Film Festival, and both seasons of The OA. Gardner says, “Our experience with Netflix has been one of real risk-taking, and of real commitment to a filmmaker’s vision. War Machine and Okja are strange, wonderful, and singular films. We’ve had a lot of fun working with them because we’ve been able to dream as big as the filmmakers
want to dream.”
Chalamet was eager to join a project that would ultimately redefine his idea of Hollywood movies
He explains, “In my naiveté, it used to seem that filmmaking always fell between the poles of gritty truth and Hollywood blockbusters. But with David Michôd on this project, we’ve gotten to do both. This is the biggest movie I’ve been a part of, it’s an epic story, but David hasn’t sacrificed his commitment to truthful storytelling for the sake of scale.”
The actor was also excited to explore a new stretch of the emotional spectrum with the role of Hal.
“I savoured the opportunity to play someone who had to be very guarded,” Chalamet says. “I often find myself in projects where the characters wear their emotions on their sleeves, and this was not the case at all. To be a politician, to be a leader, there’s an element of performance to it — but you also have to have a poker face and an ability to guard yourself.”
Like the producers, Chalamet immediately felt the story’s modern resonance.
He explains, “We’re seeing this horrible global trend right now where people would rather assert themselves over the truth. Hal’s fighting against the machinations of power and at the same time trying to find himself as a man. Most political leaders assume power with the most moral of intentions, but there are forces at play that make it difficult to rule with a good hand. If you’re not careful, power can corrode your sense of self, and you can lose your purpose. At first, Hal uses his pacifist instincts in an attempt to differentiate himself from his father and every toxically masculine leader in this time period. In some ways, the movie’s about his inability, even with his strong ethical compass, to overcome that.”
DAVID MICHÔD (Director, Co-Writer, Producer)
David Michôd is an Australian film director and screenwriter known for his films Animal Kingdom, a powerful crime drama that explores the intense battle between a criminal family and the police, and the ordinary lives caught in the middle, The Rover and War Machine, a political satire based on Michael Hastings’ book The Operators (Netflix). Michôd co-wrote the television series Catch-22, based on Joseph Heller’s celebrated novel, and also co-wrote (with director Spencer Susser) the feature film Hesher. He is a graduate of the University of Melbourne and Victorian College of the Arts School of Film & Television.
JOEL EDGERTON (Falstaff / Co-Writer, Producer)
Joel Edgerton was born in Blacktown, New South Wales. He attended the Nepean Drama School
in western Sydney before transitioning into stage and screen roles. Edgerton launched his film career in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, portraying a young Owen Lars, step-brother of Anakin Skywalker and uncle to Luke Skywalker. Edgerton was recently tapped to star in the Barry Jenkins’ Amazon series The Underground Railroad. He will play the part of Ridgeway, a slave-catcher.
- 2018 – directed the bibliographical drama Boy Erased, and starred in Red Sparrow and Gringo.
- 2017 – starred in Netflix’s action-crime film Bright.
- 2016 – starred in the drama Loving, the Western Jane Got a Gun and Midnight Special.
- 2015 – starred in the action crime-drama Black Mass, made his feature directorial debut with The Gift.
- 2014 – starred in the epic retelling of the Biblical story Exodus: Gods and Kings, wrote, produced, and starred in Felony.
- 2013 – starred in the remake of The Great Gatsby.
- 2012 – starred in Zero Dark Thirty, The Odd Life of Timothy Green, the mixed-martial-arts drama Warrior, and the prequel to John Carpenter’s The Thing.
- 2010 – starred in the Australian film Animal Kingdom.
- 2008 – in the films The Square, and Acolytes, an Australian film about teenagers who get revenge on a serial killer.
- 2007 – starred in the film Whisper and also had a significant role in the film Smokin’ Aces.
- 2005 – starred in the British comedy Kinky Boots and lent his voice to the title character of The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello, an Academy Award®-nominated animated short film.
- On stage Edgerton starred alongside Cate Blanchett as Stanley in the Sydney Theatre Company’s acclaimed 2009 production of A Streetcar Named Desire . Edgerton and Blanchett also performed the play to sold-out audiences at the Kennedy Center in November 2009, followed by a run at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in December 2009. He has appeared in multiple stage productions, most notably at The Sydney Theatre Company — Blackrock, Third World Blues, and Love for Love — and Bell Shakespeare in Henry IV.
- On television, Edgerton is known for playing the role of Will on the series The Secret Life of Us for which he was nominated for an AFI Award.