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King's man, The


Stars: Ralph Fiennes, Harris Dickinson, Gemma Arterton, Djimon Hounsou, Rhys Ifans, Tom Hollander, Daniel Bruhl, Matthew Goode, Charles Dance, Alison Steadman, Stanley Tucci, Valerie Pachner

Director: Matthew Vaughn

Is this a comedy? A (very) tongue-in-cheek action film? An indictment of war? Lurching crazily from farce to tragedy, and several genres in between, Vaughn's new 'origin film' is like a Las Vegas diva who doesn't know when to quit; every time you think she's finished, she stumbles back and does another 10 minutes.

Although the movie is 'only' 131 minutes long, it seems to run on (and on) for half the night. But, hey, there are some good action scenes, and a WW1 sequence where the story takes itself almost seriously, which is the best in the film.

Mixing Morecambe and Wise with early James Bond skulduggery, the movie opens in the Boer War, 1902, where pacifist Lord Oxford (Fiennes), working for the Red Cross, arrives at a battle zone, only to see snipers kill his wife in front of their five-year-old son Conrad.

Twelve years on, and Oxford becomes unsuccessfully involved in an attempt to protect the Archduke Ferdinand of Austria (Ron Cook) and prevent WW1, in which Conrad (Dickinson), now 17, wishes to fight, against the wishes of his father who, while feigning ineffectiveness, has secretly organised a worldwide network of 'domestic' spies, with the contrivance of his own housekeeper Polly (Arterton).

And he takes Conrad on a mission to Russia to bring down mad monk Rasputin (Ifans) who has the czar and czarina in his clutches. Czar Nicholas is played by Hollander, who also does George V and Kaiser Wilhelm and is miscast as all three.

'Today your father broke his vow of pacifism,' Oxford tell Conrad, after a lethal duel with Rasputin (although we've already seen him in action dealing with the Archduke's assassin).

Fiennes and Arterton are both good, but there's some big-time over-acting from Ifans as Rasputin, just one of a cabal of mega-villains run by a mysterious Scotsman whose headquarters are on the top of a vertiginous rock! Other players are required to strike poses rather than create characters by a director who never resists the cheap shot.

David Quinlan

USA/UK 2021. UK Distributor: Disney (Buena Vista International). Colour (unspecified).
131 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 0, Swearing 2.

Review date: 21 Dec 2021