Sunday 3 March 2013

King Ralph (1991)

So here's the idea: the entire British royal family is wiped out in a tragic, if mercifully quick, photography accident - and after some searching the sole surviving heir is found.  The problem is, he's common.  What, after all, could be more common, more unlike the staid English gentry, than a stout American who knows how to rock and roll?

I watched this recently as an antidote to 'The Birth of a Nation' (1915).  I knew I needed something fun and free, and 'King Ralph' serves that purpose very well.

'Spotted Dick?!'

Ralph, played with suitably gusto by John Goodman, has no idea he's in line for the British throne.  His leads a more-or-less contented life playing raucous piano in a Vegas bar, but finds the prospect of palaces and a kingdom of his own to be a tempting alternative.  Peter O'Toole takes it upon himself to train Ralph in the ways of etiquette, but it soon becomes apparent that Ralph is ill-suited to the post.  He's a good man, kind, gregarious and amusing, but considerably too outgoing to be the king that tradition demands.  What initially seems to Ralph like a life of luxury is soon too restrictive.  He wants to bowl, to go out for a burger, but he's too famous and too important to pass incognito, and is constantly called on for tedious but politically necessary duties.

He slips out one night and falls in love with a nice stripper by the name of Miranda, played by the ever-lovely Camille Coduri (oh, you know, she was Rose's mum in Doctor Who), a romance deemed inappropriate and eventually used against him by the villainous Lord Graves (boo!  hiss!), who wants the throne for himself.

Miranda, confronted by Lord Graves

It's a rather bitty film, at least to begin with, as each fresh clash between Ralph's character and his office plays out as a sketch of sorts, this first half-hour sequence running too slowly to be a montage, but with too little direction or development to feel like part of a story  The scenes themselves are amply enjoyable (I particularly like Ralph's education on British foodstuffs, and alarm at the prospect of 'spotted dick'), but it feels rather as if a list of ideas was drawn up, and the audience was then presented with an illustrated version of that list, rather than a story with any flow or grace to it.

Things settle down in the second half, once all the ingredients are in place.  We want to see Ralph prosper, to prove that he can indeed rise to the challenge of monarchy, but we also want to see him happy, and the romance between him and Miranda blossom, and there's no way that all of these things can come to pass.  Despite my complaints about the choppy first part of the film, it soon settles into something more satisfying.  It's undemanding but charming, with a few good laughs and roles for most of Britain's upper crust of posh-seeming actors.  Pleasingly, it comes to the same conclusions about the British monarch as 'The Queen' (2006), while being in no other way similar to that fine film.

Ralph takes the king of Zambezi down the pub.

The only other complaint I'll level at 'King Ralph' pertains to Miranda.  We're told she hails from a Northern city famed for its steel-production (so, obviously Sheffield, where I live), except we're later told the city is in the North East (where I was raised, and nowhere near Sheffield), but it's entirely unbelievable that she could have gained the accent she displays living within a hundred miles of either of these places.  Admittedly people have said the same of my own accent, but I doubt whether I would turn into quite such a cockney if I lived in London for a few months.  I hope we never have occasion to find out, as I like my home much more than I like our capital, but living here has yet to turn me into a broad Yorkshireman.

P.S. On Tuesday I'll be popping up a post about all the films I've seen so far in the project and associated statistics.  On Thursday, we'll be looking at 'Brick', a very fresh noir from 2005.

Feel an urge to watch the film?  Such desires can be salved by spending.

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