As history lessons go, To Kill A King's blend of Brit celebs and jazzed-up, muddy visuals make for easily digestible fodder. Think bite-sized chicken nuggets: tasty while they last but un(ful)filling in the long run. In fact, it's tempting to think that director Mike Barker took a backhander from school teachers fed up of teaching class 2B on a wet Monday afternoon.
Set in the aftermath of the English Civil War, the action takes place during one of the most turbulent periods in the British Isle's history. We join the fracas as the Roundheads under Lord General Thomas Fairfax (Dougray Scott) and his deputy Oliver Cromwell (Tim Roth), fight to reform the Crown. The pesky King Charles I (Rupert Everett) and his Cavalier cronies have to be taught the hard way that Parliament is boss.
The key word, though, is "aftermath". Set after the bloody swordplay has come to an exhausted standstill, To Kill A King is as talky as Braveheart was action-packed. Less interested in battlefield heroics than in stalking the gloomy corridors of power, Barker's drama revolves around the relationship between Fairfax and Cromwell, a bitter love affair that ends as Cromwell loses patience with Fairfax's compromising approach and installs himself as Lord Protector.
Veering between snoozeworthy boredom and the kind of rabid scenery chomping that would put a pantomime dame to shame, the movie's main attraction is watching these prized thesps throw themselves into the material. Dougray Scott and Olivia Williams comfort themselves with a stately air (Williams' "Hey-nonny-no" singing moment aside), while Tim Roth amuses himself by playing Cromwell as some bastard offspring of Richard III and Planet Of The Apes' General Thade.
But the scene-stealing laurels go to Rupert Everett, who savours each line like a wine enthusiast sipping at a fine vintage. He may have been embarrassing in the likes of The Next Best Thing and - shiver - Unconditional Love, but here he's nothing short of exquisite.
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A valiant attempt to put British history on-screen, To Kill A King is let down by a talky script that doesn't give its cast enough meat to get their teeth into.