Film of the Week: THE KING’S MAN (15, 131 mins)
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Director Matthew Vaughn is nothing if not consistent.
In 2014, he began his journey into Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons’ comic book The Secret Service with the gratuitously violent spy caper Kingsman: The Secret Service and traded enthusiastically in on-screen sadism and crude sexism.
The 2017 sequel, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, was another hyperkinetic exercise in gizmo-laden blandness with a scatter-brained plot salvaged by Elton John’s hilariously potty-mouthed and exaggerated self-portrait.
Originally intended for release in November 2019, the franchise’s third chapter wheezes and splutters as it sketches the origins of the covert organisation of impeccably-tailored British agents dedicated to global peace.
Ralph Fiennes and Harris Dickinson replicate the suave mentor and headstrong protege dynamic of Colin Firth and Taron Egerton in previous films, precisely one century earlier as simmering tensions between first cousins King George V, Nicholas II of Russia and Wilhelm II of Germany (played by Tom Hollander with contrasting moustaches) light a fuse on the First World War.
Vaughn’s penchant for overblown action sequences gets bogged down in the trenches but he achieves a thrilling crescendo with an expertly choreographed sword fight between Fiennes’ war veteran and Rhys Ifans’ sexually voracious Russian monk Rasputin, who whirls on a table top like a Cossack dancer as their blades clash.
The script’s haphazard conflation of historical fact and wide-eyed lunacy, including some James Bond-style skulduggery with a Bakewell tart, is stodgy and – fittingly – hard to swallow.
The prequel opens with a tear-soaked prologue in 1902 South Africa as the Anglo-Boer conflict enters its final stretch.
Distinguished war hero the Duke of Oxford (Fiennes) and wife Emily (Alexandra Maria Lara) visit a British Empire concentration camp run by high-ranking officer Kitchener (Charles Dance) as Red Cross envoys.
A lone gunman opens fire and fatally wounds Emily.
With her dying breath, she issues a decree about their five-year-old son Conrad (Alexander Shaw): “Protect him from this world. Never let him see war again…”
Twelve years later, the Duke is an ardent pacifist with a network of servant spies in influential households around the globe, coordinated by his housekeeper Polly (Gemma Arterton).
When a shadowy mastermind called the Shepherd orders the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand (Ron Cook), the Duke rallies the troops including right-hand-man Shola (Djimon Hounsou).
As storm cloud gather, the Duke clashes with his headstrong 17-year-old son (now played by Dickinson), who intends to enlist in the army.
The King’s Man elaborates on the series’ totems (codenames from Arthurian legend, the Savile Row tailor shop that becomes the group’s secret headquarters) with minimum dramatic outlay.
Fiennes lends gravitas to his underwritten role while Vaugh concentrates on the spectacle, including a blast of Tchaikovsky’s bombastic 1812 Overture to accompany one frenetic bout of hand-to-hand fisticuffs.