Film Review

You’ve probably already read about Lincoln’s one minute of fame in the Netflix blockbuster The King, but what about the film itself? James Buxton gives his verdict.

Above all, The King is a competent, thoroughly enjoyable coming-of-age historical tale, focusing on the evolution of the English King Henry V, from his sordid origins as the rebellious Prince Hal to his finest hour at the Battle of Agincourt.

The film attempts to walk a fine line, purporting itself as an adaptation of both Shakespeare’s Henriad and the true events upon which the play was based in equal parts.

Lincoln Cathedral appears in Henry V’s coronation scene 35 minutes into the film. Photo: Netflix

In reality, The King leans far more towards the former in terms of story, yet does away with the Shakespearean dialect in favour of an odd medley of modern and classical language.

Ultimately, the film falls short on either side of the coin, being too outlandish to stand as a straight historical biopic, yet simultaneously is entirely too straight-laced and gritty to exist as a direct adaptation of Shakespeare à la Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V.

Henry IV (Ben Mendelsohn).

Despite its immediate shortcomings, the film holds up exceptionally well as a piece of entertainment. Timothée Chalamet plays the titular King Henry V, and despite the film’s tendency to match him against a rotating door of scene-stealing talent, he captures the nuances of his character flawlessly.

His ability to jump from the debauched Prince Hal to the fearless warrior king of old without even a hint of contrivance is noteworthy of itself, and despite a few accent quibbles, his delivery of certain lines lifted directly from the source material are borderline iconic.

His rapport with Ben Mendelsohn’s Henry IV, or lack thereof, is the driving force that carries the first third of the film, and it’s entirely due to the talent of the two actors that this succeeds.

The Dauphin of France (Robert Pattinson).

The costume and set design is next to flawless. Aside from a few style inconsistencies, namely Robert Pattinson’s Game of Thrones-esque fantasy armour, every scene excellently depicts the early 15th Century in every aspect. Peasant costumes are rough and bland, and the food looks anything but appetising throughout.

John Falstaff (Joel Edgerton).

The climax of the film, set at the Battle of Agincourt, is a particular highlight, choosing to portray Henry’s legendary victory as the gory, muddy hell that it most certainly was, doing away with Shakespeare’s romanticism entirely.

Catherine (Lily-Rose Depp).

The King is far from perfect, but is by no means a bad film. The acting is faultless throughout, and despite a slow start the political intrigue and raw depiction of medieval war remains engaging to the final scene.

It’s certainly not the best Shakespeare adaptation, but you’d be hard pressed to find a film of its ilk from the last few years that comes close to matching up.

The third time is maybe, sort of, kind of, the charm for the 2019 Disney remakes. The bar was admittedly a pretty low one, and it’s hard to think of any way in which this is superior to its animated original, but at least there is plenty to enjoy, which is more than could be said for Dumbo (read review) and Aladdin (read review) earlier this year.

That being said, they still fail to answer the question of why these remakes exist at all beyond a cynical (and successful) attempt to wrest as much cash from the pockets of millennials and parents, and especially millennial parents.

The irony of The Lion King is that this is the best of the live-action adaptations to come out this year, and yet it also feels like the most pointless of them. With Dumbo they tried to do something relatively original, and with Aladdin they tried to correct some of the more concerning racial issues of its animated predecessor. Neither succeeded in coming even remotely close to being as good as their originals, but at least you could pretend there was a reason for their existence beyond callous money-grabbing. Here, it’s hard to see where that reason lies.

Image: Disney

The filmmakers have created a near shot-for-shot remake, and what they have brought to the table in terms of originality is unclear. The visual work is stunning, the shots of Africa gorgeous, and the CGI animals impressive. But it’s not as if we were lacking high-quality footage of animals in Africa – real ones at that – with Planet Earth and its various spin-offs readily available on Netflix.

It’s also impossible to avoid the feeling that, as incredible as the CGI rendering of the
animals is, some of the charm is also lost. It’s much harder to suspend disbelief of a lion living in perfect harmony with its prey when rendered in 4K.

And yet, I did find myself mostly enjoying it. Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen make a good Timon and Pumba, and given the difficulty Will Smith had in replicating the comedic magic of the Genie, this is no mean feat. Chiwetel Ejiofor is excellent as Scar, and despite my reservations about the CGI, Scar is properly evil and scary-looking.

Florence Kasumba, Keegan-Michael Key, and Eric André in The Lion King (2019). Image: Disney

Beyoncé’s casting is hardly more than a shrewd PR coup, with Nala there almost purely to drive the plot along and bring Simba home. The lack of character is not her fault, the filmmakers failing to add anything of note to the film and missing a real opportunity to make Nala’s character more than just a vehicle for Simba’s redemption, especially when they have someone with such star power and gravitas as Beyoncé.

Beyoncé in The Lion King (2019). Image: Disney

And therein lies the crux of the issue with this film as a whole — its lack of experimentation and originality. It is enjoyable, it will make you smile, laugh, maybe even cry. But if you have seen the animated version, this will in no way feel like an improvement, despite the star-studded cast and multi-million dollar budget.

The Lion King (2019) rating: 6/10

Joe is the film and TV critic for The Lincolnite. He is a Master’s student at the University of Lincoln, having abandoned the sunny beaches of the Cayman Islands for the slightly colder climes of Lincolnshire to see whether he could make it as a writer. Joe graduated from St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland in 2016, where he studied the Liberal Arts and drank far too much bad American beer.

Thriller. Horror. Break-up movie. Surrealist drama. Absurdist comedy. All and none of these things accurately describe Midsommar, Ari Aster’s latest film. That is not to say it is unsure of its direction and place – it is brilliantly self-assured – and for the duration of the 2 hours and 20 minutes the writer-director’s vision is never in doubt.

The film opens with a tragedy, for lack of a better word, with one of the bleakest opening sequences in recent memory. By that point, it seemed as if the film might descend into misery porn but it masterfully avoids this fate. A few months on and Dani (Florence Pugh) is understandably grieving and depressed so her boyfriend begrudgingly invites her on his summer trip.

They have been invited by a friend, Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), to his commune, Hårga, for a special Midsommar festival. But upon arrival, things begin to start to descend into the absurd and the terrifying as their cult-like nature begins to emerge.

The visuals are stunning, often digitally enhanced and altered to great effect during drug-induced highs and lows. The score is magnificent, highlighting the madness with its diversity, from light pan and pipe music to heart-racing orchestral pieces as the film ramps up in its final act.

But the performances as a cast make this film both possible and thoroughly entertaining. Florence Pugh is exceptional as the grieving Dani, and without her nous the film might descend into total nonsense. But her tactful and incredibly expressive performance is the centrepiece of an absurd descent into terrifying Nordic bacchanalia.

Jack Reynor and Florence Pugh in Midsommar (2019). Photo: B-Reel Films

Will Poulter provides some excellent comic relief. Christrian, Dani’s boyfriend, might not be the worst boyfriend of all time, but he might make a shortlist, and his awkward and infuriating indifference is expertly portrayed by Jack Raynor. It’s hard to highlight one in particular – all of the Hårgans embody the duality of welcoming, loving hippies and murderous cultists with disturbing magnificence.

Aster toys with his audience artfully, punishing them, making them laugh out loud when silence would be expected and daring them to keep watching as he focuses in on some incredibly brutal and gross body horror. He’s in no rush to reach his disconcerting conclusion, preferring to let the narrative, and the audience, stew as the true nature of this remote commune with all its bizarre and sinister traditions reveals itself.

At 2 hours 20 minutes, it does feel a bit indulgent occasionally, but at no point is the unfolding chaos not gripping, and the audience is left guessing whether it’s going to be guffawing or recoiling next, and sometimes doing both simultaneously.

Photo: B-Reel Films

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Midsommar is that most of it occurs in bright sunshine, the land of the midnight sun, which is an achievement in itself as horror’s usual domain of the dark is only sparingly used, and yet still manages to terrify with incredible ease. But it does so much more than fear, as Aster explores grief to the full, as well as a failing relationship and the absence of love that Dani so desperately needs. And then there’s the sheer madness, with mushroom trips, a drug-fuelled orgy and dance, ritual suicide and murder, all gleefully highlighted in great and disturbing detail by the cinematographer and director.

To say this film isn’t for everyone might qualify for understatement of the year, and it is sure to divide opinion judging by some of the overheard comments as the audience filed out. But one thing is certain – it is not for the faint of heart.

Midsommar (2019) rating: 9/10

Joe is the film and TV critic for The Lincolnite. He is a Master’s student at the University of Lincoln, having abandoned the sunny beaches of the Cayman Islands for the slightly colder climes of Lincolnshire to see whether he could make it as a writer. Joe graduated from St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland in 2016, where he studied the Liberal Arts and drank far too much bad American beer.

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