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DVD Review: To Kill A King

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To Kill A King is the story of the aftermath of the English Civil War and the execution of Charles I in the mid 1600s. For history buffs in general, and British history buffs in particular, that's enough of a hook to make this DVD a must-see.

But there's more to it than a straight history flick. The movie tells the story of the relationship between Oliver Cromwell and Lord Thomas Fairfax, who commanded the Puritan army during the English Civil War. The friendship is strained when Fairfax learns that Cromwell will not rest until Charles I is executed for his crimes against the British people. Fairfax considers himself a reformer, and wants to keep England a monarchy under a reformed government. Even as Cromwell lays dying, he cannot forgive Fairfax; his final words to his friend are, "I was counting on you, and you failed me." Fairfax could have said the same thing.

Cromwell, played ably by Tim Roth, is portrayed as a man driven to bring all of England, and later all the world, under his rule, no matter how much he protests that he's interested in liberty for all. And Cromwell is backed by the Puritans, who are typically shown in the movie as shadowy characters with five-o'clock shadows and evil intentions. The acting is good, but the characterization is rather one-dimensional. Charles I is portrayed more favorably than Cromwell is, and his crimes are glossed over in the movie.

Fairfax is played by a brooding Dougray Scott. Fairfax is plagued by conflict; his own desires for governmental reform, his disagreements with Cromwell, and his conflict with his monarchist wife all torment him throughout the film. Even so, he seems a bit one-dimensional — the classic tormented hero character, who nobody likes until the end, who nobody really understands.

Fairfax's wife is played by Olivia Williams, and is probably the weakest character of them all. Maybe if her own conflict between the love of her husband and her love of her monarchist father had been explored a bit more fully her character would have been a bit more sympathetic.

There were a few historic quibbles I had with the film. As I mentioned, the Puritans are shown as rather evil people, diabolical in their planning, almost Machiavellian. Historically, there were dissenters on both sides of the conflict, and while Puritans certainly were in charge of the rebel forces, their intentions were not as malicious as are portrayed in the film — in fact, some turned on Cromwell when his own methods proved repugnant to him.

The first scene also contains a bit of a laugh — Cromwell is attacked by a monarchist, and Fairfax fires his pistol from a good distance and manages to hit the assassin's hand, knocking the dirk out of his grasp. With 17th century technology, Fairfax was lucky to have even hit the assassin — pistols were notoriously inaccurate, and he had as good a chance of hitting Cromwell in the head as he did hitting the intended target.

One of the things I enjoy about DVDs is the bonus material, and the packaging on this one advertises that it "includes a featurette and special features." All I found on the DVD I received were the movie itself and the trailer, so unfortunately I cannot attest to the content of any of those special features. That said, To Kill A King is a decent historical movie, and while maybe not worth a purchase is well worth renting. Cromwell, it isn't.

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