The King’s Man: World War I Paves The Way

(L-R) Matthew Goode as Morton, Charles Dance as Kitchener, Shaun Scott as Kingsman Tailor, Ralph Fiennes as Oxford and Harris Dickinson as Conrad in 20th Century Studios’ THE KING’S MAN. Photo credit: Peter Mountain. © 2020 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

The King’s Man takes it all back to World War I to depict the beginning of how Kingsman got its start as a secret service organization.

Harry Hart once delivered a monologue explaining the foundation of Kingsman to Eggsy during the first Kingsman film. It’s not quite the Star Wars opening crawl come to life but this film has its own epic feel to it. It’s funny sitting here and thinking about how both this film and Rogue One are influenced by monologues or an opening crawl.

When the world’s worst tyrants and criminal masterminds gather together and put a war into action, only one person, Orlando Oxford, the Duke of Oxford (Ralph Fiennes), decides to stand in their way. And so, the secret intelligence organization known as Kingsman is born. Or at least will be born by the end of the film. But anyway, the Duke of Oxford is a pacifist. As the world starts making its way towards war, he does everything he can to get his son, Conrad Oxford (Harris Dickinson) out of harm’s way. However, Conrad has a different agenda. He wants to fight!

The elder Oxford utilizes a spy network made up of people working behind the scenes. Butlers, chauffeurs, nannies, maids, etc. The Duke of Oxford could do this because it was a very different era. His rounds out his team with bodyguard/right-hand man Shola (Djimon Hounsou) and housekeeper Polly (Gemma Arterton).

The Shepherd, a mysterious character, runs this cabal of criminal masterminds and tyrants. Among the members are Mata Hari, Rasputin (Rhys Ifans), and Erik Jan Hanussen. Their collective goal is to destroy Europe and this starts with the murder of Archduke Ferdinand.

I like how filmmaker Matthew Vaughn changes things up. There’s still some fun set pieces for audiences to enjoy but it’s a very different tone from the first two Kingsman films. I mean, this is a war movie after all so we’re watching the impact of war on everyone! What we get in the end is a historical fiction take of the war but presented through the lens of the Kingsman universe. The press notes cite co-writer Karl Gajdusek as saying “Our dates are right, our events are right, everything that happens in history we give credence to. We just suggest that our stuff happened behind-the-scenes, in rooms unseen.”

This is a film that goes for period accuracy in every department and they do their best. Whether its costume design or production design, they go above and beyond. You really think you’re transported back in time to over a century ago! Even in terms of the cinematography, Vaughn teams up with Ben Davis for some vintage-style long-lens filmmaking. The King’s Man owes its filmmaking style to the prime years of VistaVision! There’s even a sequence that pays homage to Errol Flynn!

Matthew Vaughn speaks to an environment where the world goes to war for the hell of it. I mean, look at our own climate. At any point during the Trump years, it felt like war could break out just because Trump was throwing a temper tantrum. It doesn’t make it right but it shows how things are no different now than they were over a hundred years ago! But unlike Trump, the World War I takes its roots in family rivalries between cousins. More on these cousins in a few moments. But in as as much as this is a war film, it’s also about a father and son. The events of the film are what drive the elder Oxford in the direction he goes.

It’s not unfair to compare this film to Inglourious Basterds in a way. Matthew Vaughn and Quentin Tarantino but revise history in their own special way. However, Tarantino goes for more drama than humor in his film. Vaughn and company keep the franchise humor but cannot ignore the horrific elements of war.

However, if you’re like me, you’re going to make the deep dive into all the actual people involved. If I have any bone to pick, it’s that the film refers to them as Queen Victoria’s grandchildren. This is true for both King George V and Kaiser Wilhelm II. However, Tsar Nicholas II isn’t a grandchild of Queen Victoria. He was a cousin to King George V by way of Denmark’s King Christian IX! It’s funny how so much of European royalty ran through two people. Also, the anti-German sentiment in Britain led to the formation of the House of Windsor. But anyway, George and Nicholas II looked so much alike and the film picks up on this by having Tom Hollander portray both. Hollander also portrays their German cousin, too.

The King’s Man tackles the horrific side of war with a serious bent while still maintaining the franchise’s elements of humor, action, and adventure.

DIRECTOR: Matthew Vaughn
SCREENWRITERS: Matthew Vaughn & Karl Gajdusek
CAST: Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arterton, Rhys Ifans, Matthew Goode, Tom Hollander, Harris Dickinson, Daniel Brühl, with Djimon Hounsou and Charles Dance

20th Century Studios will release The King’s Man in theaters on December 22, 2021.

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.