• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as preparation for a future work on Straub/Huillet's Moses und Aron and a few bits and pieces on biblical studies.

    Matt Page


    Tuesday, December 11, 2007

    The King (2007)

    The King is the prequel to this Easter's The Follower from The Saltmine Trust. Released in time for Christmas it offers three snapshots of what the Christmas story might look like if it would happen today. So Herod (Richard Hasnip) works in an office; Joseph's dreams occur whilst he has fallen asleep in front of the TV; the wise men make their plans via an internet chat room; and Jesus's birth takes place in a grotty basement.

    The three films' central plot device is also a result of this modernisation. Herod is hauled in by the Romans and interrogated about the events leading up to his slaughter of the innocents. It's an interesting concept, precisely because it makes Herod somewhat sympathetic. Whilst Hasnip warns us that this time he is not the hero, seeing Herod as something of a victim throws fresh light on him. Yes he is still culpable for the tragic events at Bethlehem, but, for possibly the first time, he is played as a three dimensional character rather than just the villain in a holy Christmas pantomime. At the same time, however, the idea feels a bit contrived - as if the setting was chosen to allow Hasnip to demonstrate his acting ability, rather than because it fits particularly well with the story.Herod's account is interspersed with the story of Mary and Joe, whose familiar story unfolds in an (un)familiar setting. This has been done before, of course, in Goddard's Hail Mary, but that was over twenty years ago, set in another country and filmed in a different language. Here Mary calls Joe on his mobile to tell him about her pregnancy whilst he's at work. It's the worst possible timing and unsurprising, therefore, that he has a hard time accepting it. When they have to travel for the "census" Joe's anger surfaces once again, and it's his aggression, as much as the landlady's kindness, or God's provision, that gets them somewhere for Mary to give birth.

    The unconventional take on Mary and Joseph is fresh, and emphasises their normality. It puts us in their shoes, just as Herod's scenes do. Unfortunately, although the two scenes described above are well conceived, they don't quite deliver. They require an awful lot from the two young leads, and whilst they give it a good shot, it all feels a little forced. And ultimately, Joe's anger and Mary's sappiness makes it hard to sympathise with them elsewhere in the film.Like The Follower, The King is written by Richard Hasnip and directed by James White. White's task here is trickier than in the follower. The three main sets are not the kinds of places that make for attractive cinematography: Herod's office is the epitome of corporate blandness, the interrogation takes place in a darkened room, and the basement is meant to look kind of shabby. Given this, White does well to find some nice shots whilst preserving the real-world feel of the three films as a whole. In fact, whereas The Follower's three stories worked best as stand alone episodes, this is more like three parts of the same story.

    The King differs in other ways too. The soundtrack is subtler, and much improved, and the use of a number of viewpoints leave this feeling like more of a conventional drama than the original's dramatic monologues.

    Overall, then, whilst The King is not up to the standards of The Follower it still manages to take a story that it sometimes too familiar and offer up some interesting and original ideas.

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