'The King': How historically accurate is Netflix's new Shakespearean drama?

The film is loosely adapted from Shakespeare's plays 'Henry IV, Part 1’, ‘Henry IV, Part 2’, and ‘Henry V’. The problem, however, is that the great bard himself took some creative liberties while writing them.


                            'The King': How historically accurate is Netflix's new Shakespearean drama?

The King’, one of Netflix’s most-anticipated November releases, follows the life and times of King Henry V. But does this historical drama starring Timothee Chalamet and Robert Pattinson do justice to history? The answer to that is a little iffy. 

The film is loosely adapted from Shakespeare's plays 'Henry IV, Part 1’, ‘Henry IV, Part 2’, and ‘Henry V’. The problem, however, is that the great bard himself took some creative liberties while writing them -- and why wouldn’t he? After all, his plays were meant to entertain, not educate.

So before we see the film on the small screens of our laptops, phones, tabs or TVs, let’s take a brief history lesson. Henry V was born on September 16, 1386. Also known as Henry of Monmouth, he was the king of England from 1413 until his death in 1422. The second English monarch of the House of Lancaster, Henry V was the son of Henry of Bolingbroke (Henry IV). At the time of his birth, Richard II was king.

Henry V established himself as an able ruler and had several military successes, the most notable of which was the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. All this stands true in the film, but the resemblance with facts sort of end there. 

For example, in the film, the young prince Hal (before he became Henry V) is befriended by a Sir John Falstaff (Joel Edgerton). In Shakespeare's plays, Falstaff and Hal share a close friendship. In ‘Henry IV Part II’, however, Hal rejects Falstaff during his coronation and bans him from seeing him. Worse still, in real life, there never was a Sir John Falstaff.

Shakespeare, according to Refinery29, based the character on Henry’s old friend, Sir John Oldcastle. In real life, Oldcastle was not banned; he was sentenced to death for heresy by Henry V and was burned at the stake. 

Funnily enough, according to the same article, Shakespeare had originally named the character Oldcastle. But he settled for Falstaff after Oldcastle’s relatives campaigned to have the name changed. Another giant creative leap is the treatment of Pattinson’s character, Louis. 

In Shakespeare’s play as well as the film, the conflict between England and France starts because Louis sends Henry tennis balls as a coronation gift -- an attempt to mock him. In reality, however, this tidbit has no documentation. In fact, according to Time magazine, Louis was allegedly not at the Battle of Agincourt at all. Even his death was fictionalized. He is said to have died of dysentery or pneumonia, and not in battle.

Of course, that would not have made for good cinema, now would it? Historical inaccuracies aside, Chalamet’s performance is something that has excited many. 

‘The King’ will be available for digital streaming on Netflix starting November 1.

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