Reviewed by: Ryan McLelland

The White King is a dystopian film that’s been called a mixture of 1984 and Empire of the Sun. I think that’s a pretty good assessment. The film was first seen at film festivals in 2016 before being released in the UK this past January. The White King finally reaches the US and I was a bit excited to sit down and watch this film for one particular reason, which I’ll get to in a moment.

The film stars Lorenzo Allchurch as Djata, a twelve year old growing up in The Homeland – an isolated totalitarian state in the middle of nowhere. Propaganda signs are everywhere as are cameras watching everyone’s every move. In the beginning everything kind of seems normal for Djata, his mother Hannah (Agyness Deyn), and his father Peter (Ross Partridge). That is until secret police show up and take Peter away. No rhyme or reason is discussed with Djata or the audience why this occurs. Djata is actually told that his father is going to go off and work somewhere, but the audience knows this is B.S. from the very start.

Now by themselves, Djata and Hannah find themselves being completely shunned in their community. At first Djata doesn’t seem to notice because life just kind of goes on. He plays with his friends and gets beat up by older kids and government jerks who like to punch kids in the stomach. Just your average ordinary day. But we soon learn that Peter had been taken away to a work camp and that he was branded a traitor. Not only is he a traitor but Djata and Hannah have been branded traitors as well.

At twelve Djata faces a choice of soon joining the military. If he does this his life will be much better as soldiers seem to have all the power (and greater amenities). Djata also has some very powerful people inside as his grandparents (Jonathan Pryce, Fiona Shaw) are well placed within the government. His grandfather is a Colonel who loves his grandson very much, pushing the lad to join the Army and be more successful then his father. As Hannah finds it harder and harder to feed herself and her son, she starts restoring to measures and situations that she never thoughts she would have to put herself in. Djata never gives up hope in trying to find his father and embarks on his own adventure to learn the truth of The Homeland and how to possibly free his father.

This dystopian nightmare really succeeds based solely on performances. My particular reason for really wanting to watch this film was Jonathan Pryce. The DVD was proud to exclaim that he’s from Game of Thrones, but I love Pryce from Brazil which is not only one of my favorite science fiction films but about as wonderful of a dystopian film as you can get. Pryce doesn’t get nearly as much screentime in The White King and this film cannot meet the frenetic pace of the Terry Gilliam masterpiece. But The White King and Brazil are truly two different films so it is understandable.

This film hinges on the performance of Lorenzo Allchurch who is onscreen nearly the entire time. Cast a kid who can’t act in a film like this and you would be immediately bored. But Allchurch does an amazing job with the material and gives a superb performance as the young man trying to finally make sense of his surroundings. Allchurch’s Djata is a tough kid who doesn’t take shit from anyone, no matter how much older or bigger they are. There’s a fire inside Allchurch that he was able to bring out in his performance. You buy the film because you buy Allchurch. With him acting his ass off everything else pretty much falls in line.

Ross Partridge plays Allchurch’s father but his role in The White King is quite limited. American audiences probably know him best from being Will’s father in the first season of Stranger Things, though his role in the Netflix show is pretty limited as well. Harry Potter fans will also recognize Fiona Shaw as Allchurch’s grandmother. I love Shaw, not just from Harry Potter but from that horrible Super Mario Bros movie from the early nineties that I have a soft spot for. Shaw’s role is also pretty limited but she really turns out a stellar performance with the material she’s given. She cares about Djata but she also cares greatly for this government’s future.

Greta Scacchi plays a General who lives high above the squalor of The Homeland in a home full of modern conveniences. Honestly I didn’t know it was Great Scacchi until the credits rolled. It didn’t look much like Scacchi – but I know her from twenty year old films like Presumed Innocent or The Player. We all get older so I don’t want to seem like I’m being shallow by talking about Scacchi’s looks. I just didn’t recognize her.  Scacchi’s time on screen is also pretty brief but I really enjoyed her section of the film. Her General was a real SOB truly trying to take advantage of the situation. The fact that she is a woman with this kind of power made it all the more better.

There was one huge thing that bothered me about this film and it is such a minor detail, but one that is important to me. Everyone’s clothes are really clean. Clean and new. Very neat. Not torn. Not ripped. Not dirty. The Homeland is in the middle of nowhere – in the country. Sand and dust seem to kick up everywhere. There isn’t a Tesco or Walmart anywhere nearby and I imagine these aren’t the sort of people that wash their clothes everyday. So did this totalitarian government also invest in highly durable clothes that always look brand new, never rip, and never get dirty? Doubtful. I imagine that actors never want to walk around in dirty clothes all the time but the people who took care of wardrobe could have at least made the clothes look a little old and ratty. Maybe bought some clothing from a thrift shop. It literally looks like they bought these clothes off the rack, took off the tags, and dressed the actors. Beyond the cast wardrobe, I thought the film looked a bit low budget but that didn’t affect the plot or the performances, especially that of Allchurch.

The special features here are pretty meager. There is a super quick six minute Behind the Scenes featurette that gets in, talks about the plot, and get out. Same with the Cast and Directors Interviews as this section was only four minutes long. I think in a dystopian film like this a longer featurette could have done wonders, especially if there were looks at pre-production, on the set, and maybe how they did created some of the SFX. The book is based on a novel so possibly having author György Dragomán talking on the film would have been great. The Cast and Directors Interviews seems to have come from after they actors had seen the completed work. Jonathan Pryce talks about how the film’s politics and how they mirror some of the politics of today. It was quite interesting and I just wish they would have put more of this in the special features. What we have isn’t bad – they just could have put more umph into both featurettes. The DVD also includes a trailer for the film which I can always appreciate.

Overall The White King is a great little film about how government can go so wrong even when the intent is so good. It also speaks to how our governments are trying to take over looking at every facet of our lives more and more. Tack on a great performance by the young lead and you have a very enjoyable film. Just be forewarned: A film like this doesn’t usually tend to lend itself to a happy ending.

RATING: B+
SPECIAL FEATURES RATING: B-

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