“There are some big televisions out there now,” Mendelsohn said wearily. “Listen, it’s quite right that in the setting of the Venice Film Festival, that there is a lamentation of what it means that cinema is in a waning period … I don’t know what happens going forward.
“I know that what stands up in a cinema now is enormous blockbusters and not much else. It’s up to the audience. If you had people clamouring to go and see an intimate cinematic piece, they would make them. It’s not just some pernicious, on-high illuminati deciding this.”
Inspiration for the film initially came from Michôd’s co-writer, the actor and director Joel Edgerton. The pair, whose notable collaborations include the award-winning film Animal Kingdom, started work more than five years ago on their own interpretation of Shakespeare’s original stories of plotting, betrayal and heroism. Edgerton plays Falstaff, a drunken old soldier who is the young King Henry V’s only reliable friend and ally.
“Joel is a fun guy but he never gets to be fun in movies,” said Michôd. “I loved the idea of him getting fat and being fun.”
At the outset of the film, Mendelsohn’s Henry IV is battling rebels in Scotland and Wales in a series of pointless small wars. When he dies, his young son, played by Chalamet, sets out to unify and pacify the country only to enter into a much more consuming war with France.
Current political parallels kept occurring to them as they wrote, says Michôd. “You read Henry V and we could see parallels not just with the Bush administration, when neocons in the White House were pushing a kind of naive President towards war, but parallels with the Obama administration – a truly well-intentioned man having to surrender himself to institutions much larger than him.”
All Michôd’s films have dealt in some measure with masculinity.
“I have only started – and it should have been obvious from the very beginning – to see these patterns in the movies,” he says. “Now I see they are in a way all movies either about pathologically delusional men, or just naive men coming to realise they were wrong but in toxically male worlds. And I’ve come to realise they are all some version of me.”