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The White King review: wrenching, compelling, and all-too-timely

Initially published at WOW 24/7 

 

Husband and wife filmmakers Jörg Tittel and Alex Helfrecht imagine a tense, absorbing totalitarian state in their debut feature The White King. Review by Katrina Conaglen at Edinburgh International Film Festival

Director: Jörg Tittel and Alex Helfrecht
Featuring: Lorenzo Allchurch, Agyness Dean, Jonathan Pryce, Fiona Shaw, Ross Partridge, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson
Genre: Drama/Sci fi
Country: UK
Release date: June 18, 2016
Cert: TBA
Running time: 89 mins

This is a film that’s eerily prescient, given the current state of political affairs in both Britain and the US.

Adapting a work from the Romanian novelist György Dragomán, who drafted a series of short stories influenced by his experience growing up under Ceausescu’s regime, Tittel and Helfrecht tell the story of Djata.
He’s a 12 year old boy whose hero of a father has been taken to a work camp for political treason.Djata (Lorenzo Allchurch, quietly charismatic) and his mother Hannah (a superb, affecting Agyness Deyn) live in an imagined, English-speaking agrarian totalitarian regime predicated on the worship of the apocryphal ‘Young Hank’.

The film plays obeisance to dystopia classic 1984, from the omniscient surveillance cameras, propaganda posters (‘YOU ARE SAFE!” one proclaims, a message that immediately conveys you’re bloody not safe, mate), and quasi-Newspeak references to “The Homeland.”

Propelled by ideology and Djata’s evolving political consciousness rather than plot, the film’s episodic nature somewhat betrays the short story form of the source novel. However it remains thoughtful, tense, and sensitive to Djata and Hannah’s emotional struggles throughout.

The film’s heart is Hannah’s fight to rightly raise a child in a horrific world, beset at all sides with corruption.

In a particularly harrowing sequence, Djata’s paternal grandfather (sublimely ironic casting in Jonathan Pryce, one-time rebel hero in Brazil) places a gun in his hand and commands him to slay a cat, believing he’s preparing him for the grim realities of their land. The viewer is terrified Djata will acquiesce.

Worth seeing?

A film with no easy answers to the threat of fascism, and all the better for it. Wrenching, compelling, and all-too-timely.

 

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