The White King
dir-scr Alex Helfrecht, Jorg Tittel
prd Alex Helfrecht, Jorg Tittel, Teun Hilte, Philip Munger
with Lorenzo Allchurch, Agyness Deyn, Ross Partridge, Fiona Shaw, Jonathan Pryce, Greta Scacchi, Olafur Darri Olafsson, Ton Kas, Malachi Hallett, Louis Suc, Clare-Hope Ashitey, Olivia Williams
release UK 27.Jan.17
16/UK 1h29
The White King
Target practice: Allchurch, Shaw and Pryce

deyn scacchi olafsson
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The White King Cleverly directed to cut through the surfaces, this inventive British drama is a fresh twist on the dystopian youth genre. Even though the narrative lacks momentum, the premise and characters are darkly fascinating, offering plenty of interest while bringing some edgy themes to life.

As their totalitarian state celebrates its 30th anniversary, Djata (Allchurch) is taught by his father (Partridge): "Don't blindly believe anyone." Then when Dad is taken away by officials, Djata and his mother Hannah (Deyn) have to get on with life on their own. Hannah hates letting Djata visit her in-laws (Pryce and Shaw), as they only stir up the militaristic aspects of this culture, which extend to violent war games between groups of boys. But Djata's central concern is to find out what really happened to his father.

Djata is an imaginative kid, nicely played by Allchurch with a wry sense of defiant humour. This inner life helps Allchurch carry the entire movie on his shoulders, with solid support from the starry likes of Pryce and Shaw, who cleverly mix familial love with a deeper menace. Deyn gives a solid, compelling turn as Djata's steely mother. And there are also some vivid side characters, including Scacchi's a cold-hearted general and Olafsson's mythical hermit.

Husband-wife filmmakers Tittel and Helfrecht use knowing symbols and slogans to create an atmosphere of insidious state control that echo Nazi Germany, austerity Britain and Trump's America. Subtle effects add to the impact, as do suggestions about a more advanced and profitable world far out of reach of the masses. "Sacrifice today for a greater tomorrow," is one ubiquitous message, as workers make do with the poverty that supposedly puts them more at one with nature.

All of this is intriguing as the imagery and themes work together to create such a vivid sense of time and place. But this only makes it more frustrating that the splintered plot strands struggle to make much sense. Nothing quite clicks into gear, story-wise, which makes it hard to properly engage with what happens. But glimpses of futuristic technology add a layer of resonance in the idea that this is the logical direction our world is headed right now. This chilling undertone keeps the audience gripped even when the story seems to spin its wheels.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 13.Dec.16

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© 2017 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall