I Served the King of England

Part fairytale and part historical overview, Czech director Jiri Menzel’s (Closely Watched Trains) film starts out as a lighthearted story about Jan Dite, an ordinary guy who’s just gotten released from jail, where he served a 15-year sentence. The film’s told in flashback mode with Dite reflecting back on his life as a waiter (and then proprietor). The message of Menzel’s film is made explicit at the end, when Dite says it’s in going through tragedy and hardship that we become human. That’s clear throughout the movie, which seamlessly incorporates Czech history into the story of how a simple man like Dite ended up behind bars. Ivan Barnev is terrific as the young Dite, playing the character with a Chaplin/Keaton-like affinity for slapstick with a good bit of pathos mixed in. Oldrich Kaiser is also excellent as the older (and more subdued) Dite, a guy who fondly remembers the past yet looks optimistically to the future, even though everything around him can seem quite bleak. An adaptation of a novel by Czech writer Bohumil Hrabel, the film can sometimes be too flippant about things such as the Holocaust. That said, it doesn’t ignore the fact that Dite, as naïve as he might be at times, understands the ways he’s complicit with Nazism. And it’s that balance of humor and drama that puts King of England nearly on the same level as the Oscar-winning Closely Watched Trains. HHH