EIFF 2016: The White King

Agyness Deyn and Jonathan Pryce star in this dystopian fantasy that, in our current political climate, should feel more urgent

Film Review by Rachel Bowles | 22 Jun 2016
Film title: The White King
Director: Alex Helfrecht, Jörg Tittel
Starring: Agyness Deyn, Lorenzo Allchurch, Fiona Shaw, Greta Scacchi, Jonathan Pryce

The White King stars up-and-coming young actor Lorenzo Allchurch, who plays 12-year-old Djata, a happy boy unaware of the dangers of the isolationist dictatorship in which he lives, a sword of Damocles set to shatter his family apart forever. When government agents require Djata’s father Peter (Ross Partridge) to leave the family home, Djata’s mother Hannah (Agyness Deyn) pretends that Peter is away for a 'special mission' that Djata should be proud of. Peter is actually imprisoned in a gulag for speech of political dissent.

Upon learning the truth, Djata is desperate to spit in the face of the White King’s regime, whatever the consequence (Allchurch masterfully imbues Djata with a tireless anger). He gets this admirable attitude of revolt from Hannah, who'll stop at nothing to bring her husband home while trying to keep her ethics and dignity under deplorable conditions in their corrupt, collectivised living quarters.

Although The White King is adapted from the novel of the same name by György Dragomán, who based his dystopian authoritarian tale on his childhood in Ceaușescu’s Romania, directors Alex Helfrecht and Jörg Tittel seemed to have drawn on more fascist aesthetics – the White King’s chilling swastika-like symbol, for example, although the eponymous king’s cult of personality statue, the rationing, gulags and separate living quarters for 'undesirables' are typical of any authoritarian dictatorship.

 Read more from The Skinny's coverage of EIFF

Helfrecht and Tittel began making The White King, their cinematic debut, four years ago, and the rise of extremist right-wing ideology in both America and Europe has only increased and intensified in that time. So, with the brutal murder of Jo Cox just two days before the film’s premiere, why does The White King, though undeniably topical, dramatic and moving enough during its running time, not feel at all urgent or pressing?

On paper, The White King, with its angry young protagonist, dystopian themes and genre elements, looks likely to appeal to the same YA-fans who hungrily consume the sci-fi future of Hunger Games, although the directors insist that their intended audience is much more highbrow. Unfortunately, the film falls between both stools. Good performances from Allchurch, Deyn and a stellar supporting cast can’t hold a story that unravels at its conclusion, more silly than absurdist, more mawkish than moving.

The White King had its world premiere at Edinburgh International Film Festival

EIFF runs 15-26 Jun

The original review stated that film directors Jörg Tittel and Alex Helfrecht are theatre directors also. Helfrecht has previously directed theatre, Tittel has not.

The original review stated that Helfecht and Tittel hope The White King will appeal to a YA audience – this was not their intention. http://edfilmfest.org.uk