5 Reasons Why Robert Pattinson’s Performance in Netflix’s The King is So Iconic

May 21, 2023

The epic war film The King, directed by David Michôd, was one of the most anticipated releases on Netflix back in 2019. The film adapts several of Shakespeare’s plays on English history and kings during the Hundred Years’ War. King Henry V, lovingly known as Hal, inherits the English throne from his father, despite not being cut out for the role. As the conflict with France continues to escalate, he must face his fears and become a worthy ruler who cannot be too personal with his decisions. Timothée Chalamet was cast as King Henry V of England, and Joel Edgerton, who co-wrote the screenplay, played his companion, Sir John Falstaff. As for Robert Pattinson, he was picked to portray the French antagonist, Louis, the Dauphin.

May 15, 2023: This article has been updated by Mona Bassil with additional material and to better reflect Robert Pattinson’s career.

Upon the movie’s release on Netflix, viewers were quick to notice, however, that the real gem was Pattinson’s very personal rendition of The Dauphin. While his character, known in real life as Louis, Duke of Guyenne, isn’t exactly historically accurate, the actor’s own interpretation of the text is quite noticeable. Some have argued that his performance in The King is laughably bad, but that’s the point. In a movie based on a series of historical plays, there is barely any room to breathe outside the dramatic and tense moments. Pattinson adds a new level of dimension to the film that helps it stand out from other historical war dramas. Here are five reasons why The King is one of Pattinson’s best performances.

His French Accent is On-Point


One of the biggest ironies about The King lies in its actors. Pattinson is an English household name portraying a French character, while Chalamet is French but plays an Englishman. The former is known for his thorough dialect work; he’s shown he’s capable of sounding completely different, based on a film’s particular setting and era, from his Appalachian accent in The Devil All the Time to a thick Queens accent in Good Time. Audiences worldwide seem divided on whether Pattinson’s French accent in The King is credible or overly comical.

Related: The Batman: How Many Movies Did Robert Pattinson Sign Up For?

King Henry V, who is perfectly capable of speaking French, attempts to converse with the Dauphin in his native language, but the latter refuses to acknowledge this. Instead, he continues to ramble in his broken English. From the get-go, he says, “Let’s speak in English” because it’s “a simple and ugly language.” A sneaky way to assess his opponent while belittling a language that was considered vulgar and poor at the time. Besides adding a sassy nuance to the character, Pattinson himself was unwilling to perfect his French for this one role. The actor is clearly having a good time just messing with Henry and is very aware that he would probably a side eye or two from the audience. But that’s the irony of his character: he’s supposed to represent the doomed fool who will taunt Henry into going to war.

As Michôd himself confided to Variety, “The great fear always is that you end up with ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’ and ridiculous French accents. But at the same time, I kind of needed his character to be kind of absurd. He needed to be ridiculous. He needed not to have a lot of substance underneath him. He’s just there to annoy.”

He’s Not as Menacing as He First Seems


The Dauphin is first brought into the plot of The King indirectly. He isn’t visible on-screen when he’s first introduced; at Henry V’s coronation, viewers come to know of his existence in the form of a gift sent to insult him. The Dauphin’s presence remains a constant threat at the back of the viewer’s mind, someone who is seemingly capable of having the power to annihilate the English army with the snap of his fingers. As Henry V heads into France for war, this is what’s on the back of his mind, too. But then the Dauphin decides to show up and blows all expectations out of the water with his kind of petty verbal provocations.

In an almost childlike manner, the character describes in exaggerated detail what he is planning to do to Hal, such as, “I’ll drain your body of its blood and bury it under a tree. A little French tree – very young, very small. Since perchance that is fitting of your mind for you to come here – small.” Not exactly a complex war strategy fit for someone of his rank.

His bizarre personality aside, the way the Dauphin appears immediately sets the power dynamics. Henry’s presence is looming as he tries to dominate him and slowly begins to take up more of the screen, giving a visual cue that he’s the bigger man here. The Dauphin spews more and more empty threats as if he’s trying to make himself sound more intimidating than he actually is. And when the time comes for him to prove himself to the world that he’s the big and feared army man, he fails and pathetically trips in the mud. His terrible blonde wig, which looks like it hasn’t been washed in a while, is the perfect addition to this purposely unhinged persona—that’s the look of the typical noble French sociopath.

He Commands Presence Despite Only Appearing Halfway Through the Movie


Pattinson doesn’t show up in The King until it’s halfway through its runtime. Viewers only know of his existence because he sends a coronation gift to Henry V, but he doesn’t make his grand appearance until Henry arrives in France and is ready for war. The Dauphin has very few scenes of his own. But because Pattinson turned him into a flamboyant and arrogant character, he immediately stands out and becomes more memorable than the rest of the cast.

Related: Here Are Some of the Best Cinematic Historical Dramas

The initial target audience for The King would expect a serious movie with all characters adhering to that dark, menacing atmosphere. This would typically create a cast of characters that tends to blend together harmoniously. That is precisely why Pattinson’s demeanor and attitude are so brilliant; he is a light in this world of misery and war, albeit not one with much credibility. He also indirectly embodies a critical question to the movie’s theme: what is the point of war? Aren’t most armed conflicts futile? If this one starts over a guy mocking his opponent’s genitals, then is it really worth it?

He’s the Only Comedic Relief


When one thinks of war films and period dramas, they tend to be in the vein of grand epics like Gladiator, or the original 1989 Henry V, which was helmed by Kenneth Branagh, the director of Thor and Belfast. These movies are typically serious and full of dramatic action and crisis to keep audiences on the edge of their seat and biting their nails rooting for the protagonist. The King does indeed begin this way. While Shakespeare’s plays are supposed to be funny and entertaining, The King seems to overlook that, with its dark and dreary atmosphere and excruciatingly slow pace.

But then the Dauphin appears and starts threatening Henry in his tent; he provides the audience with the perfect tone shift that prevents them from completely falling asleep. They now know the face behind the threats, even though it’s hard to take him seriously. As he recites his threats to Henry and his men, no one reacts, making the situation comically worse. Pattinson’s character is on his wavelength that defies the expectations set by the movie and genre, which is why every character just blankly stares at him. The lack of reaction makes those scenes highly amusing, but it also creates a foil for Henry. The Dauphin represents his nemesis, but if he’s more of a jokester than a rigid war strategist, that gives the king an advantage and even puts him on a pedestal.

Pattinson is an Outstanding Actor


Pattinson is known for being a pretty weird guy. It’s an inside joke for anyone who knows about the persona and myth he’s honed about himself. Some of the wild facts attributed to him include being expelled from school for stealing and selling explicit magazines, making up stories in interviews and then coming clean about it, making the short film Fear & Shame just because he was craving a hotdog, and spinning in circles and putting a stone in his shoe to feel disoriented enough for his performance in The Lighthouse.

This real-life attitude Pattinson projects makes him an ideal fit for The King and brings that level of off-putting nature to his character. The director had no doubt that he could take this character and turn him into something bizarre and fascinating to watch. Whether it’s making jokes about genital size or cackling like a madman, the actor didn’t break character once. Even in his final moments, he kept up this ridiculous facade and was clearly having a good time. It’s no wonder no one else in this film laughed except for the Dauphin. The King could’ve been a movie dubbed as Oscar-bait or mainstream, but then Pattinson showed up with his best Shakespearian imitation and completely stole the spotlight. It is no wonder Pattinson is considered one of the finest and bravest actors working today, and thanks to The Batman, his career will likely be long and filled with more interesting performances.

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