I SERVED THE KING OF ENGLAND
When ageing Jan Dite (Oldrich Kaiser) is released after almost 15 years in prison, he reflects on his strange life, from the period before the war when as a young man (Ivan Barnev) he is first a lowly apprentice waiter who dreams of being a millionaire and owning a hotel. He progresses through life in a series of lucky incidents that turn out to be not so lucky because they invariably involve some mischief and he has to move on. When Nazi Germany invades Czechoslovakia, Jan, blissfully naďve and ignorant, intervenes in a street brawl in which Czech youths are pestering a young, deeply committed Arian woman of pure German stock, Lise (Julia Jentsch). This leads to romance and without realizing it, Jan finds himself on the wrong side, and it takes quite some time before he matures and realizes what he had become.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Veteran Czech filmmaker Jiri Menzel has attempted an ambitious, multi-layered adaptation from a novel rich in characters, settings and spread over many years. Where he succeeds most is in the whimsical, bitter sweet tone that is maintained throughout, even when the material gets pretty dark, as the Nazi juggernaut rolls out across Eastern Europe. The story of an innocent young man with impossible dreams has a fable quality to it, and both Ivan Barnev and Oldrich Kaiser as the young and older Jan respectively, bring a wonderful quality to the characterisation that is at once approachable and credible.
The film is largely theirs, but there are many entertaining highlights, born of both character and situation. Although some of the characters are symbolic, they still zing with life, and many of the wartime scenes as the Nazi bloodline is being developed, are chillingly directed. The naked women frolic by the swimming pool in the grounds of the swanky hotel taken over by the Nazis for the purpose of mating these blondes with officers and soldiers of pure Arian blood. It's so bright and breezy and even amusing - as well as titillating - that we almost miss the corrupt ideology driving it. But that's behind the whole film, as if telling a story that could parallel how Germans themselves allowed the Jew-chasing to go on outside their field of vision. Jan is just as blind to it, until he reflects on it.
Julia Jentsch is wonderful as the devout, Adolf-adoring German jungfrau and wife, and so is Martin Huber as the superior Maitre d' who knows everything about every customer because he once served the King of England. Huber develops a terrific character here, engaging with a subtle performance that combines professional pride, deep seated loyalty to his country (matched by hatred for the Nazis) and a quiet sense of humour.
The film's strength - it's whimsy - is also its weakness, with Menzel often letting his guard drop and letting the novel run away with the screenplay. But it's diverting and it's unique.
Email this article
I SERVED THE KING OF ENGLAND (M)
Obsluhoval jsem anglického krále
CAST: Ivan Barnev, Oldrich Kaiser, Julia Jentsch, Martin Huber, Marian Labuda, Milan Lasica, Josef Abrham, Jiri Labus, Jarumir Dulava, Pavel Novy, Istvan Szabo, Tonya Graves, Rudolf Hrusinsky
PRODUCER: Rudolf Biermann,
DIRECTOR: Jiri Menzel
SCRIPT: Jiri Menzel (novel by Bohumil Hrabaal)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jaromir Sofr
EDITOR: Jiri Brozek
MUSIC: Ales Brezina
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Milan Bycek
RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Rialto
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 26, 2007