Movie Review by Stephen Doyle
Starring: Tim Roth, Dougray Scott, Rupert Everett, Olivia Williams, James Bolam, Corin Redgrave
Director: Mike Barker
TO KILL A KING is a well-made and illuminating account of one of the key points in British history. Everyone knows that Charles I (or was it Charles II?) lost a head back in the seventeenth century (or was it the sixteenth?). This film brings sketchy detail to exhilarating life, as ELIZABETH and THE MADNESS OF KING GEORGE have done before it. They all have remarkable and gripping narratives, made all the more impressive as they happen to be based on real historical events and people. Walt Whitman’s maxim remains as apt as ever, that as soon as histories are properly told there is no more need for romances.
The film roughly covers the period between the battle of Naseby and the capture of King Charles in 1645 to the death of Oliver Cromwell in 1660. The Parliamentary forces, or Roundheads, have just brought an end to the dubious reign of King Charles (Rupert Everett) and have him locked up as they ponder what to do with him. Thomas Fairfax (Dougray Scott), the popular and good-looking leader of the Roundheads, and his deputy, the scrawny and puritan Oliver Cromwell (Tim Roth) are the key players in the formation of the peace terms, terms that the King constantly opposes. A fourth player soon emerges in the shape of Fairfax’s wife, Lady Anne (Olivia Williams) who ends up having a surprisingly large amount of influence on the outcome of proceedings.
This strong character-driven film focuses on these four individuals – Charles, Cromwell, Fairfax and his wife – and their extraordinary and shifting relationships with each other. The supporting characters are sadly not developed very much, but these four main leads are fleshed out superbly by Jenny Mayhew’s decent script. The performances are also first-class. Scott does well in an introspective role, which are always difficult to pull off. Roth meanwhile delivers a captivating and spirited performance as Cromwell. He manages to make Cromwell’s drastic transformation from an unknown and unremarkable deputy to a tyrannical dictator of a nation convincing. And Williams deserves praise for the simple reason that she does not cause the film to drag when she is on the screen – no mean feat when you consider that this is really a boys-own adventure of political intrigue and subterfuge, and a woman’s role could so easily have ended up superfluous.
However it is Rupert Everett who ends up stealing the show from under all their noses. He returns to the electric form, which saw him making waves a few years back, playing a gloriously decadent and arrogant King Charles. Everett’s refined good looks and measured tones suit the role perfectly, and he even throws in the smallest hint of Charles’ legendary stutter for good measure. Sublime casting.
Director Mike Barker handles his relatively large budget impressively. This is one of the handful of British films made each year which has production values second to none, which can stand up proud against any other film you care to mention. The locations, the costumes, the hair and make-up and the full-blown orchestral score are all note-worthy. Regrettably Barker’s camera-work can sometimes feel less assured, being a bit too showy and too obviously staged at times. There are other minor faults as well, but this is still a quality film, informative as well as entertaining.