Home Movie Reviews ‘The King’s Man’ – Review
‘The King’s Man’ – Review

‘The King’s Man’ – Review


All-star filmmaker Matthew Vaughn brings his unique vision and creativity for the medium of film once again to the big screen with The King’s Man, which presents the origin story of the storied spy agency and the result is pure class.

As a collection of history’s worst tyrants and criminal masterminds gather to plot a war to wipe out millions, one man and his protégé must race against time to stop them.

Taking audiences back to the very first chapter of the Kingsmen intelligence organisation in The King’s Man is writer/director Matthew Vaughn and he sets history on fire as only he can do. Bringing a focused and fast-moving energy to The King’s Man, Vaughn lights the furnace and sets the blaze hot for this sartorially savvy swashbuckling tale. Building off of the energy and rhythm that he brought to the previous films in the franchise, Vaughn and his team turn the clock back to the turn of the 20th century for The King’s Man and the dawn of mechanized warfare and the blood, guts and horrors of the trenches demands a new breed of hero and that’s exactly where Vaughn takes us this time around.

Vaughn lights history on fire with The King’s Man and for those who are fascinated with the dawn of the First World War, well they’ll be very pleased with how Vaughn and co-writer Karl Gajdusek pull from the true historical records to tell their story. Setting their story around and within the dawn of World War I, the director presents key historical events such as the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand to the squabbling of bickering cousins King George V, Kaiser Wilhelm II and Tsar Nicolas II to the mechanised horrors of the Western Front and he adds a terrific sense of scale and the grandiose to his narrative that he builds out before his audience. True life characters such as General Kitchener, Mata Hari, Erik Jan Hanussen, Prince Felix Yusupov and President Woodrow Wilson are all present and accounted for in The King’s Man and the result is a film that moves forward at a dramatic pace. While Vaughn’s focus is keenly focused on his narrative, he never loses sight of the true historical events and it’s amazing to watch how he uses the nuances of the past to bolster the story he presents in The King’s Man.

Standing front and centre in the middle of The King’s Man is legendary British thespian Ralph Fiennes and he’s a perfect fit to help establish the dawn of the world’s most intrepid spy agency. As the gentrified Lord Orlando Oxford, Duke of Oxford, Fiennes is a warrior of the old school and a debonair and capable operative. A veteran of the Sudanese campaign, honoured for his valour and the blood he spilt in it, he’s a man who has tried to live a different life, but who is drawn to do battle like an old lion when King and Country call for it. Fiennes gives Oxford a style and substance that is comparable to the likes of famed British adventurers such as Captain Robert Scott and Sir Ernest Shackleton, and there’s a grand swashbuckling sensibility and proper knightly quality to his character. As Oxford, Fiennes is the presentation of the perfect 20th-century gentleman and the image of what all Kingsmen agents will follow in his footsteps.

While audiences have long known Fiennes for dramatic delivery, they’ve never seen him presented in this light before, and as Colin Firth did before him, Fiennes revels in his chance to be a secret agent. And he’s a damn impressive one at that. As the first Kingsmen agent, Fiennes’ Oxford is a debonair daredevil of the old guard and it’s fun to watch him take to the enemy with a sabre in hand. Fiennes literally jumps headfirst into the action of The King’s Man and whether it’s deploying the world’s first parachute or fighting a duel with the dangerous, deranged and maddening overlord known only as The Shepard, Fiennes’ Oxford proves that not all gentlemen are indeed ‘gentle men” and this modern-day knight errant makes for one hell of a hero.

Fiennes receives a key level of support in his quest to stop The Shepard’s plans for world domination in the film’s key supporting characters. There’s Harris Dickinson as his young and intrepid son Conrad, who desires nothing more than to follow in his father’s military footsteps and serve his country proud. Djimon Hounsou is in top form as Oxford’s valet and loyal compatriot Shola and he’s deadly with a blade. And then there’s Gemma Arterton is an absolutely scene-stealer as the no-nonsense nanny and sharpshooter Polly Wilkins, who won’t put up with any sulking on the Duke’s part and who is ready to put plenty of rounds down range when the time calls for it.

Particular praise for The King’s Man must also be delivered to actor Tom Hollander who portrays the key roles of royal monarchs King George V, Kaiser Wilhelm II and Tsar Nicholas II, all of whom were related to one another as cousins, and all who looked distinctively identical one another. Hollander’s casting on Vaughn’s behalf is a great piece of meta filmmaking and the actor clearly had a blast getting to inhabit these key historical characters. He’s royal and majestic as King George V, gleefully villainous as Kaiser Wilhelm II and dramatically over his head as Tsar Nicholas II and Hollander holds the attention of the screen with each turn as these royal figureheads.

While the big bad of The King’s Man may be the mysterious megalomaniac known only as The Shepard, it’s Rhys Ifans as the gothic and deranged Grigori Rasputin who brings the villainy to the big screen. Long viewed as one of histories greatest villains, Ifans revels in the unsettling presence of Rasputin and he casts a grand and threatening shadow as the monstrous monk. With a certain rock-star flair, Ifans holds’ the audience’s attention as Rasputin and he’s a damn creepy villain who certainly gets under Oxford’s skin. A deplorable deviant and fiend, Ifans’ Rasputin is a steller test for Oxford and the Kingsmen to deal with and his performance will certainly make your skin crawl.

As a visual presentation, The King’s Man is gorgeous to look upon and Vaughn revels in the old-money aesthetic that he is able to apply to his cinematic canvas. From Oxford’s stately manor to royal palaces, to the blood and muck of the Western Front and The Shepard’s lair, The King’s Man is presented in a grand operatic fashion and audiences will lap up the images before them. There’s plenty of finely tailored sartorial stitching in The King’s Man as well, and the presence of the famed Saville Row plays an important part in this origin tale of the Kingsmen. Fiennes looks especially sharp in the array of perfectly tailored suits that he gets to don as the aristocratic Lord Oxford, and after watching The King’s Man you’ll have plenty of inspiration to book an appointment with your tailor.

Action is also the name of the game when it comes to The King’s Man and I had an especially cool time watching this film. The narrative’s setting with its late Georgian/early modern placement leads to plenty of wild sword duels and close quarter combat and this mix of blades and bullets certainly keeps things interesting. Two key scenes to bring up include Oxford and Shula’s confrontation with Rasputin and the wild and crazy fight that ensues, along with the brutal reality of trench warfare at the point of blade, club and axe and things get especially messy on the Western Front. Without giving spoilers away I will say that The King’s Man’s trench fight makes for one brutal watch and you’re adrenaline is sure to max out.

The King’s Man is a rousing tale of classic action-adventure tale and is presented with a real sense of showmanship and style on behalf of director Matthew Vaughn. It’s proper upper-crust cinema just the way we like it and makes the point that manners indeed maketh man.

Image: 20th Century Studios