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Published May 16th, 2003 | by Jay Richardson

To Kill a King Review

As one of the most troubled and politically complex eras in British history, filming the English Civil War was never going to be a stroll in Hampton Court. Twice bankrupt, deferring crew payments and abandoning sets on Her Majesty’s private lawns, To Kill a King’s brush with the financial axe seems entirely appropriate for capturing the chaos of Charles I’s execution. Out of the turmoil though comes this truly epic narrative, one of the most ambitious independent releases of recent years.

Opening in 1645, at the gruesome aftermath of the Royalist defeat at Naseby, Mike Barker’s film rejects expensive battle scenes to focus on the relationship between aristocrat General Thomas Fairfax (Dougray Scott), leader of the parliamentary army, and Oliver Cromwell (Tim Roth), his puritanical deputy. It’s less Oliver’s Army than Fairfax’s struggle to maintain peace – his own and the nation’s – as the reluctant class traitor is torn between family interests and his friend’s revolutionary zeal. To make matters worse, Cromwell rightly suspects Lady Fairfax’s (Olivia Williams) sympathy for the imprisoned monarch (Rupert Everett), and when parliament is exposed as corrupt, he begins a reforming purge of blood.

Beautiful in period detail and costume, but without the production values of say, Gladiator or Braveheart, the film keeps a graceful camera tight to the main characters, a challenge they largely respond to. Everett’s carefully observed mannerisms and utter conviction of earthly divinity make him a sympathetic yet believable oppressor, whilst Scott’s ‘Black Tom’ is near-Shakespearean: a warrior-god amongst men, a dashing rogue to women, yet possessed of dilemmas Maximus and Wallace could not imagine. Roth is best of all though, utterly compelling as a warts ‘n’ all Cromwell. Assured but troubled, righteous yet ruthless, he’s the ugly, human face of this riveting drama. A modern Man For All Seasons.

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