Review: ‘The King’s Man’ Starring Ralph Fiennes and Harris Dickinson

The King's Man
Ralph Fiennes and Harris Dickinson star in ‘The King’s Man’ (Photo Credit: 20th Century Studios)

The build up to World War I, the Russian Revolution, and the birth of the secret intelligence agency run out of a Saville Row tailor shop in London are the focus of the latest installment of the Kingsman franchise, The King’s Man. The prequel explores the origins of the secret spy organization and takes the action back to the early 20th century.

The King’s Man opens in 1902 in South Africa and introduces Duke Orlando Oxford (Ralph Fiennes) as he witnesses the untimely death of his wife. Devastated but determined, he’s left to raise their only son, Conrad (Harris Dickinson), alone. Orlando becomes increasingly overprotective and constantly concerned about Conrad being in any kind of danger.

Fast-forward several years later and young Conrad’s now almost a legal adult. He yearns for adventure and is anxious to enlist and fight on the front lines in World War I.

Conrad’s dreams are put on hold when he and his dad are selected to protect Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria (Ron Cook) from assassination attempts. Despite their best and bravest efforts, Ferdinand’s killed by an assassin who works for a mysterious evil mastermind. Following the failure of their mission, Conrad enlists in the British army on his birthday, anxious to be part of the great campaign – much to his father’s disapproval.

Shocking events lead Orlando, his most trusted housekeeper/spy-in-disguise Polly (Gemma Arterton), and his right-hand-man Shola (Djimon Hounsou) to go all out to find the identity of the criminal bigwig who’s trying to ignite an even bigger war and stop him before he succeeds.

Even with a great cast, The King’s Man can’t escape its uneven tone and vulgar humor which ruins what could – and should – have been a rousing comical adventure. Ralph Fiennes shines in the role of Orlando Oxford, a man who only wants to protect his son from the horrors of the world. Ralph portrays Oxford with charm, grace, and as a gentleman’s gentleman. It’s reminiscent of his performance as John Steed in the 1998 big-screen version of the hit British television show The Avengers. He also brings depth and real emotion to the role in the more shocking and disturbing scenes. This is never more evident than in the opening sequence with the tragic killing of his wife. It’s heartbreaking to watch as he clutches her lifeless body and looks at his six-year-old son while trying to hold back tears.

Gemma Arterton and Djimon Hounsou are solid as Polly and Shola, Orlando’s loyal comrades in arms who are highly skilled in battle and espionage. The film’s at its best when Arterton, Hounsou, and Fiennes are working together during the third act.

But even with these above-average performances, The King’s Man cannot escape its uneven tone, awful dialogue, and painfully silly villains. Going back and forth from deadly serious and even tragic scenes to juvenile and tasteless humor gives the film a lost and disjointed feel. It’s almost as though the filmmakers tried to blend together the Austin Powers films with 1917 and Gallipoli. The result is a jumbled, erratic mess of a film with tasteless humor, ridiculous action, and over-the-top melodrama.


MPAA Rating: R for some sexual material, language, and strong bloody violence

Release Date: December 22, 2021

Running Time: 2 hours 11 minutes

Directed By: Matthew Vaughn