In a dystopian future, a young boy is forced to come of age after his father is taken away by the authorities.
The past few years have seen so many movies about kids trapped in dystopian futures, anybody born after 1995 must be in pessimistic mood indeed. The White King won’t do much to cheer them up, but at least the oppressed society it posits isn’t just a thin metaphor for how parents just don’t get it, man – it’s a sophisticated and interesting megamix of fascism, the Warsaw Pact and the contemporary slide to the right across much of Europe. It’s a pity, then, that so much work has gone into designing a conceptually watertight future that more couldn’t be done to foster a satisfying narrative.
There’s a lot here to savour – it’s a pity, then, that early promise peters out.
Adapted from a 2005 novel by Gyorgy Dragoman – who grew up the other side of the Berlin Wall and knows a thing or two about nasty regimes – we follow Djata, a young boy who, after an idyllic opening picnic, has to watch as the feds take away his beloved father. Instead of the revolutionary quest YA adaptations have conditioned us to, however, we get an episodic treatment of his coming of age, covering his establishment granddad teaching him how to shoot, his learning to stand up to bullies, and his realization that his mum is imperfect – but, curiously, girls are wholly absent. Sadly, this only foregrounds what a quest can bring to a more conventional narrative – instead of building to a righteous fury, Djata just meanders through his world, then the film stops.
Despite sharing a wobbly American accent with much of the cast, Agyness Deyn does good work as Djata’s mother (blimey, you either die a hero, or live long enough to see former It girls play mums), but Lorenzo Allchurch is fantastic as Djata, selling the at times outlandish situation with a skill that belies his years.
And it’s this situation that’s the chief draw – the makers have clearly thought about what a future reversion to twentieth century-style tyranny would look like, and the design, anthems and details all ring true, with a knuckle duster-toting teacher standing out. With such strong world-building, this is a film all dressed up and with nowhere to go.
Showing great promise from its clearly intelligent debuting directors, there’s a lot here to savour – it’s a pity, then, that early promise peters out.