The King’s Man – Review

The King's Man Rhys IfansThe last time we saw The King’s Man organisation back in 2017’s The Golden Circle, Eggsy and Harry were teaming up with their US counterparts in order to save the world (and the King’s Man agency) from ruination. It was – let’s be honest – a rather disappointing follow up to the first movie about the gentlemanly spy circle. Talks of further sequels appear to have been scrapped. But the franchise itself remains alive and well …

Giving the agency an “origins story”, director Matthew Vaughn teams up with writer Karl Gajdusek, using historical events to create a powerful back story. Orland Oxford (Ralph Fiennes) is a committed pacifist, having participated in and seen too many wars. He is doing all that he can to prevent his only son, Conrad (Harris Dickinson) from signing up for the army, in the wake of World War One. Convinced that there is more to the outbreak of war than feuding royal cousins, Oxford embarks on secret missions across Europe and Russia to try and prevent any further suffering and unnecessary deaths.

What works so well with The King’s Man is its basis in fact. It all feels very credible. We see the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand by Gavrilo Princip; we see the devastating British influence in the Boer War; we see the spy and seductress Mata Hari in action. These are names that we have no doubt read in countless textbooks brought to life in a fantastically paced spy thriller. Vaughn really knows how to use these events to his cinematic advantage, too. There are breathtaking gun fights in the trenches of Europe; poignant emotional moments; totally outlandish humour. It all weaves together seamlessly.

Ralph Fiennes oozes charm and class in the lead role. As Oxford, he really gets the chance to showcase everything he’s good at – from dry one liners to gut punching emotion. He’s sharply dressed and sharp of mind. You understand his desires to protect his son; his strong sense of patriotic duty; his pacificism. He’s a truly well fleshed out, well written (and well acted) character. Fiennes’ recital of the Wilfred Owen poem Dulce et Decorum Est is an absolute masterclass in dramatic delivery.

Rhys Ifans is clearly having the time of his life as Rasputin, “the mad monk”. He growls and snarls; he stares as if burrowing through to your soul; he eats an entire bakewell tart in one go. He is absolutely chewing the scenery, but in the best possible way. The scene in the drawing room with Ralph Fiennes is both tense and hilarious. It’s also clever and hysterical that, during his big fight scene, elements of Cossack dance and ballet are incorporated into his moves.

Gemma Arterton is excellent a the feisty Polly; Djimon Hounsou is gentle and charming as Shola. Harris Dickinson, as Conrad, is every bit the ambitious young man desperate to evade his father’s shadow. Tom Hollander – in three roles – amps up the stereotype as Kaiser Wilhelm. Charles Dance and Matthew Goode also appear as Lord Kitchener and his aide de camp. There are lots of lovely cameos from the likes of August Diehl, Alexandra Maria Lara, Stanley Tucci, Alison Steadman and Branka Katic. Personally, I would have liked to have seen more of Daniel Bruhl, an actor who deserves more than the few lines he is given.

The King's Man Gemma ArtertonMichele Clapton’s costumes are outstanding – as you’d expect in a film that centres around a Saville Row tailor’s shop. The suits are so crisp and well cut, finished perfectly with polished brogues and a silver-topped cane. The period details – be it in soldiers’ uniforms or Rasputin’s robes – feel accurate and well rendered. Dominic Lewis and Matthew Margison’s musical score makes the most of thumping classical excerpts and quieter, more emotive pieces.

Vaughn really doesn’t shy away from the horrors of war. His depiction of the trenches is, sadly, all too accurate. Grim, hopeless and traumatic are just three words that spring to mind. He underlines how ill-prepared British troops were as they go “up and over”, only to be decimated by machine gun fire within seconds. However, this is tempered by some thrilling hand-to-hand combat sequences with the likes of Oxford, Shola and Rasputin. There really is some good fun to be had here, too. The secret society for villains – headed by the mysterious and shadowy Shepherd – also walks the tightrope of humour and horror very well.

The King’s Man delivers all the thrills and spills you could hope for, and more. It is positively bursting with charm, as well as packing in some truly emotional moments. It’s possibly the best film of the franchise so far. Here’s hoping there is more on the way.

The King’s Man is now screening in UK cinemas.

Mary Munoz
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