Union Station Media // 2003 // 102 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker // February 26th, 2008
The true story that became a legend.
It's 1645, the days of Civil War in England. King Charles I (Rupert Everett, Another Country) has been overthrown and is under house arrest. Sir Thomas Fairfax (Dougray Scott, Desperate Housewives) and Oliver Cromwell (Tim Roth, Reservoir Dogs) have emerged as the heroes of the Revolution, particularly Fairfax, whose good looks and noble background (he is a lord) make him a popular figure with the people.
Fairfax's wife, Lady Anne (Olivia Williams, The Man from Elysian Fields) has enjoyed a close relationship with the King; her father is still a Loyalist and disapproves of what Fairfax and Cromwell are doing.
But ideologically, the two men are drifting apart. Fairfax wants a more egalitarian government, but he doesn't necessarily want the King out of the picture. Cromwell, on the other hand, is looking at more sweeping -- and bloody -- changes.
To Kill a King is a modest historical drama bolstered by decent performances and a literate script. The film eschews the pageantry of an epic for an intimate look at political intrigue and the complex relationships among the four major players.
Much of the film explores the relationship between Scott's handsome, charismatic Fairfax and Cromwell, whom Roth portrays as kind of a nutty, spiteful Puritan. This might be accurate -- I'm really not up enough on my European history, though I've rarely read about Cromwell being a sympathetic figure -- and Roth's patented weaselly performance is fairly effective, if a bit one-note. It's easy to understand why he'd need a good-looking charmer at his side, and while Scott's charms are a bit on the bland side, he certainly looks heroic enough. Just to jazz things up a bit, there's a subtle homoerotic undercurrent between the two men, which usually manifests when the lovely Lady Anne comes around and Cromwell stares daggers at her and says mean things in clipped phrases. As Mistress Fairfax, Williams is solid, even if her outspoken character is a tad anachronistic.
The acting crown belongs to Rupert Everett as the doomed King Charles. Everett plays the King as a self-deluding fop who is convinced that he rules by divine right. Charles truly seems to believe he has the love and support of the people he'd basically abused for years. When he is brought to trial before the new Parliament -- filled with his enemies -- he seems not to understand that his fate has been sealed before the proceedings began. As the trial swiftly denigrates into a kangaroo court, with thuggish Puritans proclaiming Charles guilty before he's had a chance to present his own case, the King becomes a pathetic figure, but thanks to Everett, not without dignity.
Apparently shot on a low budget, To Kill a King looks very good, with a fine, if simple, rendering of period sets and costumes. The script does a good job of keeping all the elements together, though much of it is exposition, bits of history for the uninformed.
The disc offers a very nice transfer and good, solid audio options. Besides trailers, the only extra is a six-minute "Behind the Scenes" featurettes, with the director and actors discussing the real-life counterparts of their characters.
To Kill a King will primarily be of interest to European history buffs and fans of Masterpiece Theater-style entertainment. Overall, it's a decent, if uninspiring, effort.
Keep your heads, this one's not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2008 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Union Station Media
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* "Behind the Scenes" featurette
* Official Site