And tell sad stories of the death of kings.
Richard II, Act iii. Sc. 2.
Oliver Cromwell and Thomas Fairfax led the Puritan revolt against Charles I that resulted in what as known as the Civil Wars. In the mind of Cromwell and his supporters, Charles I led a series of bloody civil wars against the Parliamentary forces that challenged Charles I's right to absolute rule. These civil wars caused the death of approximately 10% of Britain's adult males. It was a bloody time. Eventually, Cromwell and his supporters determined that the only way to end the civil wars was to put Charles I to trial. The trial and subsequent execution of Charles I was a watershed event that left England a republic (albeit only temporarily) and created the legal theory that tyranny was not a right of rulers but a crime against the ruled. The trial destroyed forever the right of kings to act with impunity from justice and the principles established at this trial still exist today and were evident at trials from Nuremberg to Yugoslavia.
"To Kill a King" sets out to tell the story of the trial and execution of King Charles I at the hands of Oliver Cromwell and his republican/Puritan army. However, the film's centerpiece is not, sad to say, the trial of Charles I but, rather, the complex and emotional relationship between Oliver Cromwell and his closest ally, Lord General Thomas Fairfax. The result is a film that, while interesting in its own right, misses the opportunity to explore one of history's most important events.
Director Mike Barker (and his cinematographer) does a commendable job in evoking the horror of the Civil Wars. The opening scene in particular, a scene shot at the end of a battle, gives the viewer a good idea of the devastation and havoc the war had on the English people. Tim Roth, as Oliver Cromwell and Dougray Scott play off against each other very well. Best of friends and comrades at arms Cromwell and Fairfax together secure victory after victory for their armies. As the film opens Fairfax, a great and popular general, was squarely in the republican camp. However, as the puritan revolution took hold Fairfax and his wife (played by Olivia Williams) begin to recoil at the excesses that most revolutions eventually fall prey to. The heart of the film involves the gulf that grows between the two friends as the revolution begins to devour its own. Rupert Everett does an excellent job portraying Charles I. He conveys the host of personality quirks of the king, at once foppish and naïve yet also cunning and far from unintelligent, as he tries desperately to find a way out of his rather comfortable house arrest. The trial itself is well done, if played out a bit superficially. The final `estrangement' between Cromwell and Fairfax is probably the strongest part of the film.
All in all this film is worth watching. However, it is worth watching not because it provides any great insights into the Civil War(s) and the trial of Charles I. Rather, it is a decent drama about two friends and their turbulent relationship. The War and Charles I are merely backdrop, even if the backdrop is well thought out and historically accurate.
This is a good film to put in your queue and provides good entertainment if you are in the mood for a lively period piece. The DVD had no `extras' worth mentioning.
Anyone interested in an excellent book on the trial and execution of Charles I would likely enjoy The Tyrannicide Brief: The Story of the Man Who Sent Charles I to the Scaffold .