Director Alex Hellfrecht, Jorg Tittel
Starring Jonathan Pryce, Agyness Deyn, Greta Scaachi, Fiona Shaw, Lorenzo Allchurch
Released 27th January 2017
Welcome to another post-dystopian society, with another teenager at the centre of the story. No big star names this time, though, no huge set piece battles and, sadly, no sense of direction either.
The setting is a dictatorship, where teenager Djata (Lorenzo Allchurch) lives an unremarkable life with his parents until his father is arrested, imprisoned and labelled a traitor. As the boy and his mother are increasingly ostracised by the people around them, they try to reunite their family, appealing to other members of the family, the military and anybody else they can turn to. But everything and everybody has turned against them.
Based on the novel of the same name by Gyorgy Dragoman, this is a curious hybrid. Another YA movie, certainly, but with language and themes more suited to something adult. And, just to complicate matters, those themes are laid out for us but never developed in the way they deserve. The dictatorship, The Homeland, comes straight out of the pages of Orwell’s 1984, with its all-seeing security camera and a speaker in every home to both broadcast propaganda and act as a telephone, presumably with every word overheard by the authorities.
How the country went down this road is never explained. We know it happened 30 years ago, there was a figurehead called Hank who’s commemorated in an enormous statue that looks down on the countryside and that Homeland is in a pretty poor economic state. Or, at least, the workers in the countryside are: officials and high ranking military officers have a much better time of it, with nice houses, flash cars and the latest in technology. But what laws and values the people are forced to follow and who is behind the dictatorship remains unknown. There’s no images of the ruler, just a symbol in the shape of a trident.
What’s clear is that we’re presented with a society that’s being indoctrinated, presumably with the idea that everything The Homeland does is correct and good. Colonel Fitz (Jonathan Pryce) and his wife (Fiona Shaw), also Djata’s grandparents, were heroes of the revolution, following the rules and swallowing everything they were told. For them, it was the right thing to do and they wanted their son, Djata’s father, to follow the same path: he’d have a good life in the military, plenty of food, a nicer house and a better school for the boy. But, as Fitz says ruefully, he went his own way. Then the scales start to fall from the older man’s eyes …….
As a storyline, there’s nothing here that we’ve not seen before. Except other young adult fodder of the likes of The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner at least seem to have a purpose in mind. This one doesn’t. It’s all rather superficial and aimless and, when you add to that a script that likes to make life hard for the actors, it really is a film that isn’t going anywhere in terms of developing its themes or holding on to its audience. Because, in all honesty, it’s more than a little dull.
By way of example, take the title. Once we get past the Russian style graphics of the title sequence, we see Djata and his father playing chess. The boy wins and he’s playing with the white pieces. Later on, in the home of a military general, he plays chess again with an android, but they only manage a couple of moves before he has to go. And that’s the full extent of the title’s connection with the film. Not a metaphor, nothing to do with the story. Just nothing.
The White King was released in cinemas on Friday, 27 January and on DVD on Monday, 30 January. It was also reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 26 January.