Unrequested TV recommendation: Netflix’s The King is exceptional. A number of major characters and relationships are given decidedly non-traditional backgrounds and story arcs, and a number of anachronistic beliefs and sentiments. But it’s a very good, modernized, concise reenvisioning of Shakespeare’s Henriad.
The costuming and world appropriately mix majesty (the Dauphin’s subtle, elegant armor; the fields of France) with mud and grit (Henry’s grime covered battle visage; the slums of Eastcheap). The English royal robes and the scenes in which they appear speak of royalty and wealth while also not letting you forget that this is the dark, dirty, shabby, sickly, violent middle ages.
The action is also very well done and balanced. Siege catapults light the night sky in beautiful arcs of fire. Ranks of armored knights advance shining in the sun. But it’s also down to earth. Heroes twirl their swords with presumably anachronistic flair and some seriously videogame-inspired posing. The actual fighting though immediately descends into men scrabbling in the dirt and mud, simply clubbing each other with mailed fists and looking for any kind of purchase or advantage in contests of brute power rather than elegance.
The language and dialog is also fantastic. It feels thoroughly Shakespearean while actually being short and modern. A couple exchanges, phrases, and speeches I could have sworn were drawn from actual Shakespeare, but they’re not.
Most importantly, the characters and themes are great. Kings’ madnesses as foils for each other. Inertia, misunderstanding, and deceit propelling forward conflict the top leaders don’t actually want. The role of family, and particularly of fathers and sons, in driving this costly period of history. Characters checked and morphed by their advisors and events. There’s a lot to mine afterward.
I can understand people being offput or even aghast at many of the changes in plot and characters from the typical take on them, as well as the several out-of-period mindsets. But I think The King is both very entertaining to watch and has a lot going on underneath.