‘The King’s Man’ is an action-packed period drama filled with humour that is spectacularly and uniquely British.
Based on a graphic novel developed by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, this is the third film of the franchise and a prequel to its earlier two films — ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’ (2015) and ‘Kingsman: The Golden Circle’ (2017).
‘The King’s Man’ therefore is the origin story of ‘The Kingsmen’, the elite club of British spies operating independently of the government, from their headquarters that fronts as a bespoke tailor’s shop on Savile Row in the City of Westminster.
Apart from telling us how the organisation was formed, the core of this film’s narrative gives us an insight into attempts made to weaken the King of England’s power and make the sun set on the British Empire.
The film begins with a dramatic prologue. In the wilderness of South Africa, Orlando Oxford (Ralph Fiennes), an aristocrat who regrets his part in plundering Britain’s colonies and is now working for the Red Cross, promises his dying wife that he would protect their son Conrad and never let him see war again.
But 12 years later, Europe is in turmoil. Against the backdrop of World War I and the Russian Revolution around the corner, the narrative focuses on Conrad, who is keen on joining the war against the wishes of his widowed father.
Orlando and his servants Polly Wilkins (Gemma Arterton) and Shola (Djimon Hounsou), with the blessings of King George V, meanwhile, are dragged into an espionage drama that may force the American President to enter the war, thereby strengthening their side. All this forms the crux of the narrative.
The plot is fascinating and relatable as it ingeniously weaves in real-life historical moments and figures. Tom Hollander plays three major monarchs — King George V of Britain, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia. They were cousins and grandsons of Queen Victoria. Tom is captivating and entertaining in each character that he portrays.
Rhys Ifans is entertaining as the villainous Russian monk Rasputin. He mesmerises the audience with his sunken kohl-laden eyes, bad table manners, and his skill of combining fighting moves with Russian dance spins.
Djimon Hounsou as Shola and Gemma Arterton as the plucky housekeeper-turned-spy have relatively little to do.
Ralph Fiennes, as the dashing superhero Orlando Oxford, plays his character straight and plain. His stern and strict father performance cum deathly spy when need be, is conventional yet rousing.
Compared to the earlier two editions of the franchise, this film is much more robust in terms of narration and tone. Despite being stylishly mounted, the first two editions were satirical and comical in their outlook, and this one seems like a historical epic.
Like most origin stories, ‘The King’s Man’, too, suffers from pacing issues. All the minor drawbacks, however, are compensated by marvellous production values, attention to historical details, and brilliantly choreographed action sequences.
Overall, ‘The King’s Man’ is an entertaining film that will appeal to history buffs.
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