Alex Helfrecht and Jörg Tittel’s The White King feels like it is aiming somewhere between The Hunger Games and Stand By Me but this tiring and undercooked young adult fantasy falls short of either. The White King is based on the novel of the same name by Hungarian author György Dragomán.
Set in a dystopian future, twelve year-old Djata (Lorenzo Allchurch) and his mother Hannah (Agyness Dean) attempt to cope as they are labelled traitors when the family patriarch is sent to a work camp
The White King is told mostly through the perspective of Djata (played with optimistic conviction by Allchurch) and therefore does not delve particularly deeply into the specifics of this dystopian world. Although there are clear parallels with Eastern European states of yesteryear, there is a frustrating lack of detail regarding Helfrecht and Tittel’s setting. We’re told of some form of independence day thirty years prior – but independence from whom? Why is Djata’s father being punished? What makes conditions so bad? Despite some authoritarian looking guards/teachers and a few security cameras -the negative aspects of this world are not fleshed out enough to make us buy into this dystopian fantasy centred on a multicultural society with food supplies and steady work.
Like this setting, The White King‘s narrative lacks depth and a clear focus. Half concerned with telling the story of Djata and his friends tackling older bullies and the other focused on Hannah’s struggle to find answers regarding her husband’s imprisonment. If you find these, please let us know, Hannah. These are so thinly crafted that the outcome is of little interest to us as viewers. Various subplots including Djata’s relationship with his Colonel grandfather (a welcome Jonathan Pryce) and a hunt for treasure under a statue of national founder Hank Lumber add a little more excitement than the other narrative angles, but don’t gel cohesively as a full feature.
Fortunately The White King makes the most of its picturesque and eye-catching locations which present a world with a naturalistic sun-baked light thanks to cinematography from René Richter. These echoes of Eastern Europe continue into the rural sets and surroundings which present a future that has reverted back into the past, as opposed to a slick and polished version of the future. This tone is set by a powerful animated opening title sequence impeccably scored by Joanna Bruzdowicz.
The White King has a premise filled with potential, but most of this feels untouched in a narrative that never delves below the surface of its intriguing dystopian context.
[rating=2] | Andrew McArthur
Sci-Fi,Drama |UK, 2016 |2016 Edinburgh Film Festival |Dir.Alex Helfrecht, Jörg Tittel | Agyness Deyn, Lorenzo Allchurch, Fiona Shaw, Greta Scacchi, Jonathan Pryce