Edinburgh 2016: The White King review


★★☆☆☆
A highly contrived script, weak performances across the board and aimless direction make The White King a remarkably dull, at times laughable Orwellian tale. Set in a dystopian nation very originally named The Homeland, located somewhere in the past, present or future, the lack of clarity regarding where and when it occurs by no means detracts from its intentions. However, it is symptomatic of a film whose depth and development is sub-par in all areas and whose intentions, whatever they may be, are never realised.

With the likes of Jonathan Pryce, Fiona Shaw and Agyness Deyn - who so impressed in Terence Davies' Sunset Song - on the bill, it makes the end product such a thudding disappointment. During an idyllic prologue, a young family relax and play by a river. A father (Ross Partridge) explains to his son, Djata (newcomer Lorenzo Allchurch) of Hank Lumber, a legendary figure whose gargantuan statue sits atop a nearby hill. Whether he is the titular king, why there is an apparent cache of treasure at his feet and even how The Homeland came to be thirty years previously will all never be explained. A national symbol which could be seen as either a trident or a pitchfork underline austerity and hard work. To whom you may ask?

Other than an illustrated credit sequence, in which heavy lines sketch the downfall of skyscrapers that are replaced by an austere, pastoral way of life, no explanation of how their society was formed is proffered. Under what rules do they live and whose authority are they subject to? Mercifully there is no racial discrimination here, all colours and creeds live in an irritatingly unexplored police state of servitude. Apprehended by a pair of heavies walking home, papa is taken off to a prison camp for 'speaking out'. Why was it deemed inappropriate? It's unclear, but bringing him home is the only plot point thereafter.

Billboards emblazoned with Serve, Glory, Duty, Family and other such totalitarian slogans make it clear that life isn't too peachy; in all honesty it's a surprise that none of Djata's pals are seen boasting about finding one of those 'OBEY' caps. A marketing opportunity missed. As Djata's mother (Deyn) continues a plight to find her husband, father in law Colonel Fitz (Pryce) gets involved but the pacing is lamentable, characterisation and plot development wafer thin. The only elements of The White King that prevent it from being an unmitigated failure are a striking visual aesthetic and solid production values. However, these do not prevent Alex Helfrecht and Jorg Tittel's venture being one to miss.

The 70th Edinburgh International Film Festival takes place from 15-26 June. For info visit edfilmfest.org.uk.

Matthew Anderson | @behind_theseens

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