Reviewer: Charity Bishop
Only once has the great nation of Britain been a republic, for a short time without a monarch overseeing the people. That was during the mid 1600's, when an army rose up and took power from the throne, unseating King Charles I and establishing a new form of short-lived and much-hated government. The story has been told in the past, but not extensively, and so To Kill a King maintains its uniqueness.
War has raged throughout England in recent years, as the people's republic attempt to convince the monarchy that they are not pleased with the current political climate. High taxation has forced many into ruin, and compelled new leaders to take a stand. Foremost among them is Sir Thomas Fairfax (Dougray Scott), whose natural camaraderie with the troops makes him immensely popular. His beautiful, aristocratic wife Lady Anne (Olivia Williams) longs for the fighting to cease so that he might come home. It seems that their armies have forced the king into submission, and the monarch (Rupert Everett) now lies imprisoned within his palace in London. A great cry of freedom arises across the land, for Fairfax is now convinced that they can force the monarch to see reason.
But it is not reason his friend and fellow patriot Oliver Cromwell (Tim Roth) demands, but the freedom of a new parliament, the rights to strip the monarchy of all its power, and force him into absolute submission. Lady Anne's loyalties to the aristocracy are stronger than those of her husband, who merely wants to see justice restored to the realm. But King Charles is not about to concede his power or his position, and it becomes a struggle against reform so blatantly corrupt that it turns vicious, replacing the seemingly decadent monarchy that went before it. Soon, Fairfax must choose between his friends or the realization that his efforts have put a corrupt diplomat into power. I did not have high expectations going into this film, but was surprised how decent it turned out to be. My knowledge of the ill-favored Stuart line ends with Charles II, whose story takes place sometime after the conclusion of the film.
I have not done an immense amount of research in the period and thus did not know the many political nuances that came into play during those tense months when England held its sovereign hostage. It is not completely historically correct and takes the route of transforming Cromwell into an ambitious, power-hungry dictator, but at the same time it grants the audience a very realistic and sad glimpse into the events that brought about the beheading of a king. If there was one thing that might have been strengthened, it would have been to establish Lady Anne's role with greater weight, because one without a knowledge of aristocratic loyalties to the monarchy might not understand why she was so favorable, and spent so much time with, the king. Other than that, the film is surprisingly adequate. Everett is better known for his humorous roles, but he makes Charles' quiet dignity and occasional moments of absolute fear memorable and heart-wrenching. Williams is absolutely ravishing as the tormented and often manipulated Lady Anne. I'm not a big fan of Scott, but he was more than apt in a role that demanded a man to see the error of his ways. Roth was very good at a compassionate man transformed into a ruthless one. There is not a tremendous amount of content, but certain aspects bear mentioning. There is a miscarriage. Dead, naked bodies are being piled up for burial after a battle.
We see a man preparing to have his leg amputated, complete with gaping war wounds. There is a beheading (mostly implied) but a severed head is twice shown. A man has been tortured for information. More unfortunate are two instances of partial nudity: Fairfax is shown in bed with his wife, his arm across her breasts, but we see most of her naked form (no intimates). On another occasion, she wraps a sheet around herself and gets up, but the audience catches a glimpse of partial rear nudity. They added nothing and detracted somewhat from the film's mostly family-friendly flow, but the movie manages to remain strong despite these minor faults. If you are interested in the time period, or the reign of Charles I, you may find fascination in To Kill a King.