The corrupt Henry IV announces his younger son will be crowned King of England when Henry dies, but after he and his younger son die, Henry V becomes the unlikely, and unwilling, king. While Henry is surrounded by English royal advisors and the Archbishop of the Church of England, he discovers that an old friend, Sir John Falstaff, is the wise sage from whom he seeks wisdom in the midst of conflict with France.
Based on the Henriad, works of William Shakespeare from the sixteenth century, Joel Edgerton (who also stars) and David Michôd (who directs) co-wrote the script for a slick, historical drama that has splashes of action and drama, but loads up on dialogue and fine performances from its principal actors. It’s a recreation of a 400-year-old discussion of power, leadership, and violence.
Henry V has given up his birthright, choosing wine and women over the royal crown. But when he’s pressed into service, he leans on the wisdom of Falstaff, a warrior who knows that violence damages both the loser and the victor. He tells Henry V early on, “Nothing stains the soul like killing.” Even when the established church, the royal advisors, and even his countrymen cry for pre-emptive violence and invasion, Henry V strives to not give in to petty slights or rumors of war. He proves to be a decisive man of action, rather than a callow man of reaction. He shows his army and his country that he will not back down from a fight, but he will not go looking for one either. Tired of the assassination attempts and corruption by the French, Henry V marches his army and meets The Dauphin in the Battle of Agincourt.
The Dove Take:
Due to its infrequent but intense language and several scenes of violence, The King cannot receive Dove approval. But the efforts of a leader to choose peace over war, and reconciliation over offense, make this a film that is worth examining for our understanding of how to lead toward peace.