Gerald Wright's Movie Coverage
I SERVED THE KING OF ENGLAND MOVIE REVIEW
Directed by: Jiri Menzel
Running time: 118 minutes
Release date: August 22, 2008
Genre: Arthouse/Foreign, Comedy, Drama and Adaptation
Language: Czech & German with English subtitles
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
MPAA Rating: R
This social satire adapted from the novel with the same title by the great Czech novelist and social satirist Bohumil Hrabal, is a playful film following the rise and fall of a very small (in height) and charming Czech waiter. The waiter is Jan Dite (Oldrich Kaiser) who in flashbacks scenes, gleefully chronicles the corruption of the 1920s' Czech government. He also chronicles the turmoil of the 1930s and 1940s under Nazi rule and the Communist invasion of the 1950s. During these decades Dite's main objective was to become rich.
The film begins brilliantly, as the young Jan (Ivan Barney) living in a small town near the Czech-German border, sells worthless trinkets to wealthy strangers. Jan decides he needs to be near the wealthy. From his job as a boy waiter in a brothel/hotel, to becoming a head waiter in an affluent first class hotel, he impressed enough people to get ahead. But when Hitler's Nazis took power in the 1930s, Jan falls in love with a German gym teacher named Liza (Julia Jentsch) who is proud of her Aryan bloodline. They get married and foolishly Jan accepts her ideology.
Liza joins the ranks of the fighting forces and gets sent to the front; however, she leaves a fortune of rare stamps with Jan which were stolen from wealthy captured Jews. Meanwhile, the Germans barely tolerate Jan, and the Czechs despise him for consorting with the oppressors. Liza dies unexpectedly and Jan sells the stamps and becomes the wealthy man he has always dreamed of being. He buys a rich hotel where he received a medal years prior from the King of England for his service as a waiter and pimp. His timing, however, is bad. As the war winds down, the Russian Communist regime takes over. The Communists consider Jan to be a collaborator and an enemy of the state and send him to prison.
During his 15 year sentence and until his release, Jan Dite writes his memoirs which are narrated throughout the film. This narrative is true to the form of Bohumil Hrabal's novels with a full cast of zany characters whose antics range from surprisingly entertaining to bizarrely tragic.
Bohumil Hrabal's depiction of post World War II Czechoslovakia was unrealistic- the film depicts this environment as jovial in many scenes. I felt this jovial atmosphere was inappropriate. Historically, this time period was an oppressive place to live. Additionally, Jan's moral transformation to Nazism wasn't really persuasive. The film did not adequately explain why a reasonably sane man like Jan would voluntarily join the Nazi party.
However, the film is very witty and funny. This humor is due to the amazing supporting cast members of Martin Huba, Marian Labuda, Milan Lasica, Josef Abrham, Jiri Labus and Jaromir Dulava. This is Czech Republic's official selection for the 2008 Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award.
FILM RATING (B)