VOD film review: The White King
James R | On 29, Jan 2017
Directors: Alex Helfrecht, Jörg Tittel
Cast: Agyness Deyn, Jonathan Pryce, Lorenzo Allchurch
Watch The White King online in the UK: Amazon Prime / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV
A young boy grows up in a dictatorship in this drama, adapted from the book of the same name by Romania’s György Dragoman. A young adult dystopian flick based on a novel? The White King might sound like the latest attempt to copy The Hunger Games, but it couldn’t be further from the lookalike franchises littering cinemas.
Newcomer Lorezona Allchurch is fantastic in the lead as Djata, a 12-year-old who finds himself buried deeper into his fascist homeland (called, with convincing blandness, Homeland), when his dad is jailed by the ruling powers that be. He and his mother (Deyn) are labelled traitors and find themselves taken under the wings of Djata’s grandparents (Pryce and Shaw), both veteran figures of the institution. But family loyalty and national fealty clash, and Djata and his mother soon realise they won’t get much help from the elderly couple, who are connected enough to save them from harsh treatment, but too connected to betray their state.
Writer-directors Alex Helfrecht and Jörg Tittel make the most of their low budget to build a harrowing world of oppression. The opening credits introduce the set-up with a stylish, bold piece of animation, while the live-action main feature relies on a handful of locations to reinforce claustrophobia and keeps details vague enough to feel universal. From the communal activities and hollow national anthems to the suspicious air that pervades every interaction, it’s a chillingly effective portrait of life under a dictatorship.
One standout scene sees Pryce (who brings the twinkly-eyed menace that made him such a good Bond villain, let alone a grizzled intimidator in Game of Thrones, Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker and, of course, Terry Gilliam’s Brazil) teaching his new ward how to shoot – a truly unsettling moment that balances paternal charm with steely violence. But the rest of the film struggles to live up that potency: a slow pace never quite builds momentum, despite the strong performances from the cast, while the budget means that there’s no big action set pieces to speak of to give things a boost.
The White King benefits from its nuanced day-to-day study of fascism, but as indoctrination, exploitation of power and misinformation all flood headlines outside of the cinema, the fiction oddly doesn’t seem dramatic enough compared to real life. By the time the muted finale arrives, it doesn’t feels like we’ve reached a climax – you keep waiting for the moment when our rebellious hero hooks up with Katniss to form a real resistance. Maybe a franchise with several sequels wouldn’t have been such a bad idea after all.
The White King is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.