The period of history before the First World War is a rich one. Filled with political intrigue, bubbling revolution, and simmering familial discord, in retrospect it’s arguable that the descent into an all consuming war was inevitable.
What is also inevitable is that when a film does well, there will be sequels and there will be prequels.
And so it is with The King’s Man, the third film by writer/director Matthew Vaughn in his comic book adapted spy universe of shoe-particular kick-ass agents saving the world.
After The Kingsman: The Golden Circle, released in 2017, we now rewind back to before the institution was even created.
The King’s Man takes a frequently pathos-filled, yet tonal stagger through the build up to (and path through) The Great War through the eyes of the Duke of Oxford and his efforts to protect his son, Conrad.
Ralph Fiennes (The Dig) is on fine form as Orlando Oxford. Ever reliable, Fiennes delivers a performance on which the whole occasionally chaotic movie can hang its hat.
An opening scene sets up his pathological need to protect Conrad (Harris Dickinson), even as legions of young men are signing up to fight in the trenches.
The family dynamic (rounded out by Gemma Arterton as maid and no-nonsense confidant Polly and Dijmon Hounsou as physically proficient Shola, butler to the household) is an ever engaging through-line through a series of set pieces hopscotching through Europe’s descent into war.
The Kingsman series has never shied away from throwing in some ultra violence or tongue in cheek risqué behaviour.
Filling your eyes, ears, and trousers with bamboozle power is a bombastic Rhys Ifans as Grigori Rasputin.
A secretive cabal actively trying to ignite war is the antagonistic spider skittering over events, of which Rasputin is one. It is these scenes that feel snipped out from a different film and stitched into this one.
Ifans lets loose with eyes ‘a flaming glow’ and the perverted thrusting of Russia’s greatest love machine.
Is The King's Man Worth Watching?
High energy action sequences crackle with the series’ trademark devilish glee, before engaging a swift handbrake turn and nosediving into the horrors of trench warfare.
Both parts of the movie work perfectly well apart, but it will be down to the viewer to hold on tight as we swing from daft to dour and back again.
The King’s Man has its detractors much like the other movies in the series, but it is hard to deny Vaughn’s directorial gusto.
Fights scenes pop with style while Vaughn has fun with the mechanisms of the time period (a turbulent prototype parachute jump being a particular highlight).
You also get three Tom Hollander’s for your money, playing all three characters (and cousins) King George of the United Kingdom, Percival Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, and Tsar Nicholas of Russia. Heck, there’s even a stern Charles Dance thrown in for good measure.
The King’s Man is the sort of movie that will immediately repel some, but overjoy others. Without the twin engines of Fiennes and Dickinson delivering a touching father-son dynamic the movie may not have worked at all.
Yet with style, substance, and roughly hewn connectivity, this is a movie that delivers big on every element.
When slapdash stitching is hidden within the hem of a finely tailored suit, it is perfectly acceptable to enjoy the craft presented for your pleasure.
Words by Mike Record