The King’s Man is the latest Mathew Vaughan film starring Ralph Fiennes. This is a film set during World War 1 and weaves fiction with actual events such as the assassination of Franz Ferdinand. This film features historical figures such as Grigori Rasputin, Lord Kitchener and King George V; however, its ultimate aim is to introduce the founding fathers of the Kingsman secret service.
The cast list to King’s Man is extensive, and that’s not even including the cameos. Ralph Fiennes takes top billing in this film; he portrays the wealthy and powerful Duke of Oxford. Although a likeable toff isn’t much of a stretch for Fiennes, he does a solid job and particularly nails most comedic features of his role. Harris Dickinson portrays Conrad Oxford, the rebellious son of the Duke and, despite his father’s pacifism, is determined to fight for his country in the war.
The Oxford household is supported by Shola (Djimon Hounsou) and Polly (Gemma Arterton). Shola and Polly publically serve as chauffeur and housekeeper, respectively; however, both are trained to kill and even have their own network of spies to gather intelligence. I notably enjoyed Polly; she added some real heart to the film in the scenes in which the Duke is grieving the loss of his son.
The highlights in the remainder of the cast include Rhys Ifans as Grigori Rasputin. He’s fantastic at emphasising the strategically disgusting and enigmatic nature of Rasputin whilst being captivating to watch. Grigori Rasputin is already a fascinating and unpredictable character – Ifans emphasised these characteristics supremely whilst adding humour to the film.
I always enjoy characters portrayed by Tom Hollander, so the fact he played three characters in King’s Man was a bit of a treat. He effortlessly emphasised the petty rivalry of cousins King George V, Tsar Nicholas and German Emperor Wilhelm II. With each of these characters, he represented the privilege and power these characters held in a comedic way that accentuated their motives derived from jealousy, delusions and ego.
Matthew Goode plays the role of Captain Morton, who is an aide to Lord Kitchener, who oversees the World War effort. However, in the final act, he is exposed as Shepherd – the antagonist who leads a Spectre-like organisation whose mission is to stoke the ongoing geopolitical fire. He has a significant influence on figures such as Rasputin, Lenin and it is later revealed Hitler, as they are all part of this sinister network. As a bald Scottish hardman, Goode as Shepherd has to be considered one of the more unconvincing bits of casting. Of course, it’s supposed to be a surprise, but when the twist comes, it’s rather ridiculous.
The King’s Man also has a compelling and enjoyable cameo from Aaron Taylor-Johnson. He plays a Scottish soldier who served in the Army alongside Conrad Oxford. He ultimately serves as a decoy in some clever writing and leads you to suspect he is Shepherd.
Similarly to the previous instalments of the Kingsmen series, Vaughan masterfully constructs some captivating action scenes. The hand-to-hand dished out in the sequences really packs some punch, and the weight of the blows is really stressed through the sound and choreography. It’s becoming a trademark for Vaughan that he quickly pans the camera around the action in tight circles, and it adds so much vibrancy and dynamism to the scenes. This worked particularly well with Rasputin’s rhythmic fighting style, whose punches and kicks are entirely in beat with the Russian score in the background.
I personally appreciated the blend of World War One events and the geopolitical landscape with the origin of Kingsmen. The scenes that involved King George V, Wilhelm II and Tsar Nicholas were mostly facetious and satirical, and that’s clear when you consider Hollander played all the roles.
The humour at times is, however, the flaw of this film. Vaughan has been guilty of being tone death in the past, and he does it again with, frankly, bad writing. In the pinnacle of the final battle between Duke of Oxford and Shepherd, it’s pretty jarring for a mountain goat to butt his horn through Shepherd’s leg. It was supposed to be a punchline to a running joke throughout the film, and it didn’t work; in fact, it really devalued the scene. I also realised how good an actor Fiennes is as he managed to keep a straight face when his character decided not to accept Polly’s resignation as a housekeeper but instead accept a “large cup of tea”.
Overall, King’s Man is a solid instalment in the Kingsman series. Personally, I think it’s better than Kingsmen: Golden Circle and Kingsmen: Secret Service comfortably remains the best so far. Yet, this sets up a more intriguing part of the Kingsmen universe. The story of Kingsmen in the Eggsy era feels laboured. This introduces us to some engaging characters and offers fascinating versions of historical figures, these combined with the geopolitical history they’ll use can refresh this series – I just hope they leave Hitler out of it.