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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

ALL THE KING’S MEN (1999)

Not the Robert Penn Warren novel about Louisiana politics, but a BBC production about a doomed WWI regiment made up largely of young men in the King’s employ @ Sandringham, his country estate. All the Masterpiece Theatre trappings that can be so satisfying & so insufferable (the period detail; the emphasis on class, caste & Royalty; the groomed grounds, gorgeous place settings & fussy costumes) are used in a Janus-faced manner here, as scaffolding to waste & tragedy. It’s apt and effective, grounding the drama in verisimilitude. David Jason, as the middle-aged Captain who’s encouraged by Queen Mother Alexandra (Maggie Smith) to put the troop together, expects a quick campaign, but when he arrives in Gallipoli, he finds a lack of proper support & supplies, dubious military intelligence and a meaningless suicidal mission. So, when he & his men bravely take to the battlefield, only to disappear in a mist, they gain a kind of immortality. Scripter Alma Cullen and helmer Julian Jarrold use a clarifying flashback structure and multiple POVs to show the battle-weary banality of what actually happened. With Ian McDiarmid as the investigating officer who learns that ‘when the truth becomes legend, print the legend,’ as John Ford put it in THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE/’62.

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