The King’s Man arrives in cinemas nationwide on December 26th.
Kingsman has returned once more, this time going back to its original figure: The King’s Man. One of Kingsman’s best qualities has always been its ability to take an award-winning dramatic actor and give them a chance to have unadulterated fun. This time, it’s Ralph Fiennes’ turn as the Duke of Oxford.
After a visit to South Africa that goes wrong, Oxford promises to uphold the vow of ensuring his son, Conrad (Harris Dickinson), will never see war again. However, there is a slight problem with this as World War One begins. For an origin film, The King’s Man feels surprisingly organic with its explanations of the more interesting quirks of the fictional secret service. For example, Conrad’s appreciation for the Knights of the Round Table feels more natural than, say, Solo’s explanation for Han’s blaster. However, there are still some hiccups, such as the confusing reveal of who coined “manners maketh the man.”
Rhys Ifans as Rasputin in 20th Century Studios’ THE KING’S MAN. Photo credit: Peter Mountain. © 2020 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.
The King’s Man flirts with British history throughout, achieving some remarkable accuracy while at the same time sweeping more problematic elements under the rug. For example, the assassination of Franz Ferdinand demonstrates the sheer coincidental nature of the events that would lead to the slaughter of millions. However, the inclusion of Herbert Kitchener also creates intense discomfort; after all, many historians count him as a war criminal due to the scorched earth policy he presided over in the Boer War and his use of the concentration camp. But here, Charles Dance’s Kitchener is presented to us as a largely courageous and good-natured man. Of course, the ability of western media to erase its own history is not uncommon, but one would have hoped that film had now moved beyond its denial of colonial horror.
The King’s Man certainly boasts a stellar cast; here, Gemma Arterton’s sharp-witted spymaster Polly is a clever commentary on who really holds power. Likewise, Dijimon Hounsou is a welcome sight as Oxford’s right-hand man and protector, Shola. But it’s Rhys Ifans who blows everyone else out of the water as Grigori Rasputin. Ifan’s doesn’t chew scenery so much as devour it, fully committing to this mystical malicious monk who whispers into the Czar’s ear while indulging in all things greedy and lustful. It’s truly a shame that he isn’t in The King’s Man more, as he stands out as one of, if not the greatest, villain the series has seen thus far.
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As The King’s Man becomes entrenched in war, we see Vaughn’s unique action-packed flair ignite. Here the film contains some of the most heart-pounding action sequences of the entire series, from cameras mounted on swords to Fiennes’ chaotic freefall through the sky next to a crashing plane. Vaughn even manages to bring something new to the horror of trench warfare. Meanwhile, for those who suffer from vertigo, a quick warning; there is a horrifically anxiety-inducing sequence in the third act that makes you feel as though your heart is in your mouth. But it is terrifyingly well-directed.
However, the historical concerns are not the only problem with The King’s Man. The reveal of the grand puppet master also creates multiple issues within the film, not to mention simply feeling downright odd. In addition, there are also a few twists and turns that, while jaw-dropping, take the wind from the film’s sails despite their bravery. The King’s Man is a return to form for those who disliked the completely indulgent spy silliness of The Golden Circle, crafting a more dramatic and intimate story that parallels the father-son dynamic of Eggsy and Harry Hart. However, one couldn’t help but feel it could have offered us even more.