Though The White King’s striking animated opening credits and boy hero Djata (Allchurch) suggest it’s an adventure aimed at children, the film as a whole is utterly confused about who its audience is. Despite a lengthy segment establishing rituals and daily life, the dystopian society is woefully under-explained, and this combined with poor acting makes it nigh on impossible to care about the plight of the central family. Instead bombastic music is all too frequently called upon in an obvious attempt to evoke feelings the mise en scène isn’t accomplished enough to provoke.
Everything about The White King is unconvincing. Agyness Deyn merely mopes around with a sulky face on, and several fine actors stumble over accents they needn’t have bothered with, as they add nothing to the world building. The plot is a series of contrivances transparently engineered to be either perfectly convenient or inconvenient for the rebels, while the adults’ assumptions of Djata’s naivety are insult to both him and audiences.
Allchurch is overly reliant on his cherubic face and goofy grin, qualities which work well enough in the annoyingly (and improbably) idyllic opening but prove an inadequate crutch when events turn grimmer. Child actors Louis Suc and Malachi Hallett, however, are better.
There are too many characters for the film to do justice to, and a pair of clichéd identikit bullies who target Djata in a near-pointless subplot are especially thinly drawn.
Sadly, the promise of the novel’s futuristic yet archaic society finds no clear expression, and even several talented cast members can’t drag the film out of dull drudgery. Pre-teen boys, the demographic who’d probably most enjoy The White King, will be unable to see it due to sporadic brutal violence.
CAST: Lorenzo Allchurch, Ross Partridge, Agyness Deyn, Jonathan Pryce, Olivia Williams, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, Fiona Shaw
DIRECTORS: Alex Helfrecht, Jörg Tittel
WRITERS: György Dragomán (novel), Alex Helfrecht (screenplay), Jörg Tittel (screenplay)
SYNOPSIS: Djata is a care-free 12-year-old growing up in a brutal dictatorship shut off from the outside world. When the government imprisons his father, Djata and his mother Hannah are labelled traitors.