To Kill a King

To Kill A King (2003): I was utterly surprised to find this movie just released on DVD about that most tumultuous era of the British Isles’ history, the era of the 1640s and 1650s, when the world of our Anglophone forebears was “turned upside down” (a phrase actually used in the movie). It is well done in many ways: costumes and acting—Rupert Everett as King Charles I is excellent, as is Dougray Scott as Lord Thomas Fairfax (1612-1671), and Olivia Williams as Anne Vere, Fairfax’s wife. It was good to see married love—that between Fairfax and his wife—portrayed with sympathy. In fact, from Naseby to Charles II’s public hanging of Cromwell’s corpse, the movie is marked overall by historical accuracy—except in one instance: the character and rule of Oliver Cromwell.

I was sorely disappointed in the portrayal of Oliver Cromwell (acted by Tim Roth). Not by Roth’s acting, but by the portrayal of Cromwell as a morose individual who, according to the movie, eventually exercises a brutal tyranny through the Army. The movie thus perpetuates one of our great historical myths: that Cromwell was cut from the same cloth of such later tyrants like Robespierre and Stalin. As one reviewer put it, Roth’s Cromwell is “assured but troubled, righteous yet ruthless,…the ugly, human face of this riveting drama.”

Those of us who love the memory of Cromwell—in this, the 350th anniversary of his death—await a sensitive, accurate celluloid portrayal of this complex man.