The King’s Man (2021)

Following Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014), which I thought was hugely fun, and Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017), which I wasn’t quite as keen on, we’re back with a prequel to the series detailing how the Kingsman agency was first set up.

It’s the early years of the twentieth century, and unrest is brewing across Europe. We get a mix of fact and fiction as various genuine historical figures are shown to be part of a shadowy cabal, determined to start a war on the whims of a mysterious Scotsman (who’s methods might have been very wrong, but his base inspiration was hard for a fellow Scot to argue with – not sure they thought that through!). Some are better served than others: Mata Hari gets a predictable cameo-ish involvement; several are unidentifiable to non-history nerds without a look at the cast list; but Rasputin (Rhys Ifans) is fabulously OTT and has the best fight scene mixing martial arts and Russian dancing – it’s glorious! And the absolute highlight of the movie.

Otherwise, I actually really enjoyed the camp, gleeful action of it all – until it hits a very serious moment. Death and war and genuine tragedy sit ill beside all the fluff and nonsense. Heck, at one point they read out Dulce et Decorum est at a funeral, and it’s… uncomfortable.

There’s also a bit of ‘hmm’ over mixing real history with japes – some of it is close enough to confuse, I suspect, if you don’t know the reality – and actually, a little undertold if you don’t. Still, with some quick googling there is a little educational value to be had: I had to check, but yes, King George of England, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, and Tsar Nicolas of Russia really were cousins. All cleverly played by Tom Hollander, emphasising the similarity of the characters.

Other characters didn’t get a good chance, I thought. Gemma Arterton feels shoehorned in to have some female representation, and it didn’t work for me. Djimon Hounsou is, as ever, criminally underutilised.

Overall, though, I did really enjoy this movie for all the daft action bits. But tonally it’s a mess, and it’s very hard to justify such glee over all the violence in a movie that seemingly tries to preach an anti-war message. Orlando Oxford (Ralph Fiennes, taking over the English toff lead from Colin Firth) has a strange grasp on ‘pacifism’. And yet, I think there was something to be said about how jarring the tragic moments were – perhaps they actually were well presented like that, shockingly out of place and thus hitting home the message?

I thought this one was better than the middle movie, but no where as fun as the original. Ymmv, as ever.

kings man posterReleased: 26th December 2021
Viewed: 11th February 2022
Running time: 131 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 7/10

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