What possesses a writer to think they can outdo Shakespeare? The same thing that forms the one genuinely interesting addition to the story here – a falsehood. That falsehood is the most interesting and additive change to the general Henriad story here, as most interesting elements are plucked out. Nearly every single interesting aspect of Falstaff is removed. Timothée Chalamet is a great actor, but he seems stuck here in the ‘throw a great actor at a half-baked script and surely it’ll work’ conundrum, struggling to find connective tissue in a script that lurches Hal from position to position with little rhyme, reason, or time for contemplation. Lily-Rose Depp acquits herself excellently, but is only at the very ending of the film.
The ‘realistic’ visuals for the film do their work, desaturating things into a mash of greys, a conscious choice to cast away the glamour and pomp we associate with the time. And there are pretty scenes realised within that visual language, particularly an amazing firebombing of a French castle, and parts of the very stripped-down Agincourt battle. The ‘realism’ works best in the fight choreography, seeing combatants tire out in under a minute, with fights turning into scraps, brawls, wrestling matches.
But mostly, the film seems unsure what it’s even doing, actively undercutting its best ideas (why flanderise the Dauphin into being so nakedly evil, when the best idea of the film is in humanising the French side towards the end?). There’s enough skill here on display in terms of the general production that it’s never exactly a bore, but it’s just so frustrating seeing such a better film peek out towards the end. Three assassins, and no band of brothers.