By Jacob Collett, Third Year, Psychology
Creating a prequel to a series is often the sign of writers wringing the neck of an idea for all it’s worth, offering only tired clichés and half-baked plotlines. Yet the latest instalment in Mathew Vaughn’s Kingsman franchise manages to slalom around these pitfalls and deliver a Boxing Day treat.
Set against the backdrop of the First World War, The King’s Man traces the origins of the underground spy organisation, focusing on the father-son relationship of founder Orlando, Duke of Oxford (Ralph Fiennes) and his son Conrad (Harris Dickinson). Featuring a star-studded cast who bring alive historical figures from Rasputin to President Woodrow Wilson, the story reimagines the events surrounding the war through the lens of a father’s pacifist agenda and his desire to honour his family.
But for its seemingly serious subject matter, the characters revel in facetiousness. Rhys Ifans takes the prize for the most ridiculous accent as Rasputin, speaking through a thick growl which reaches climactic absurdity during a scene in which he tries to seduce Orlando over a laced Bakewell tart. He is closely followed-up by Tom Hollander in this comical history lesson, who plays all three of King George V, Kaiser Wilhelm II and Tsar Nicholas II with parodically goofy accents and beards to match.
Not shying away from the obtuse, Gemma Arterton’s character Polly speaks in a Harrogate accent to imply sensibility and pragmatism as Orlando’s servant-turned-spy, while the evil Shepherd bent on destroying the world (Matthew Goode) is given a Scottish accent to represent villainy.
If it was not already apparent, The Kingsman films do not take themselves very seriously, but this does not damage their enjoyability. The difference with this prequel is that it revolves around real historical events, as opposed to the flimsier storylines set in the present day in the earlier films, to poke fun at the spy genre. And in true King’s Man style, the film is rife with those elaborate fight montages and quick one-liners that bring the franchise’s comic book origins to the screen.
The on-screen chemistry between the cast is palpable and the film looks like it was as fun to make as it is to watch. While there are certain emotional scenes which feel slightly strained and some of the convenient plot twists are as tenuous as Ralphe Fiennes’ hairline (see Woodrow Wilson being blackmailed with a sex-tape), these are offset by strong lead performances and likeable characters.
The strength of The King’s Man is that it knows what it is trying to achieve. As a pastiche of every spy thriller, it allows itself to lean into moments which would usually come across as hackneyed with a playful self-awareness that feels silly and exciting, instead of forced, which makes for an entertaining watch. If you are looking for some light-hearted action viewing this holiday to ease away from the seriousness of these times, look no further than The King’s Man.
Featured Image: 20th Century Fox Film Corporation
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