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  King's Man, The History Is Written By The Winners
Year: 2021
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Stars: Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arterton, Rhys Ifans, Harris Dickinson, Djimon Hounsou, Matthew Goode, Charles Dance, Daniel Bruhl, Tom Hollander, Aaron Taylor Johnson, Alexandra Maria Lara, Allison Steadman, Ron Cook, Branka Katic, Stanley Tucci
Genre: Action, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: In South Africa in 1902, Duke Orlando Oxford (Ralph Fiennes) was beginning his mission to reform the British Empire, an authority he felt had been responsible for too much suffering in the name of good, God and country. He was visiting one of the British concentration camps out in the desert where Lord Kitchener (Charles Dance) was residing and overseeing, in an attempt to get him to close it down, but Oxford had made the mistake of taking his family along too, and his young son Conrad witnessed his mother being shot by a sniper. They were both heartbroken, but now, in 1914, more trouble brews internationally...

A curious enterprise, the Kingsman franchise, as this was a prequel after two instalments to let us know how that fictional organisation was established, though like its predecessors was bending over backwards to justify its admiration of the British upper classes by essentially inventing characters who represented them, only with an altruistic view on the world. Arriving as it did when Ukraine was drawing the world's attention as it worried about a war, and Prince Andrew in an extended torture about his private life that summed up the very worst of the privileged strata of society, let's say the film's timing could have been better.

As it was, it did mediocre business, not a flop, but it did falter at the box office somewhat, at least compared to the other entries in the series. But some found agreeable aspects in it, largely because it seemed a lot more sincere in its dogoodery than the others, which were more or less James Bond with more bad taste and Austin Powers sensibilities taken more seriously. This was a slightly different beast, aware that you joked about World War One at your peril, so while that was the conflict that spanned the storyline, the amusements came from other areas: the war sequences were weirdly disarming in how much they wanted to move emotionally.

Not that they couldn't be regarded as crass too, as there's a reason the clown who wants to play Hamlet never really works out in reality, but as an origin story it was acceptable. Of course it was an origin story: it was based on a comic book by Mark Millar and they all get around to those eventually, or in fact first for most of them, though the creative force behind this appeared to be largely director and screenwriter Matthew Vaughn. The mystery villain here was kept in the shadows until the end, like a whodunit, but he was a Scotsman who resented England and wanted to take it out on the rest of the world, bringing down those hated Southerners in the process. That said, the accent was dodgy and identified him as a cast member who was not a native early on.

This lampooning of Scottish nationalism was an odd choice, though Millar was well-known for criticising the anti-English bigotry of the movement, so maybe this had been his idea all along, but the whole movie's politics were strange, emphasising the benefits the Brits could have on the world should they get their act together and stop trying to dominate other cultures, often with mass violence. The fact remained, this reclaiming the Empire as a force for the angels only succeeded because the United Kingdom was on the correct side in the First World War, and Oxford's determination that the damage should be limited after he fails to stop the conflict starting was a genuinely heroic motivation not often seen in a genre that preferred its heroes to use their own brand of violence to fight for justice. The trouble was, with its rewriting history to suit this - Rhys Ifans as Rasputin was just bizarre - the message didn't land, since we would be aware this was a fairy tale of what happened bearing glancing resemblance to the facts. Interesting, but misguided. Music by Dominic Lewis and Matthew Margeson.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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