The King’s Man: Trailer Breakdown With Director Matthew Vaughn

The King's Man

by Chris Hewitt |
Updated on

The first trailer for Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman prequel, The King’s Man (the power of the humble apostrophe is impressive), is here. In it, we meet new heroes, in the shape of Ralph Fiennes and Harris Dickinson, new villains, and get a flavour of the period setting Vaughn has chosen for his movie, in which we’ll learn a little more about where the Kingsman organisation of gentleman spies came from. Naturally, we couldn’t just let the trailer do the talking, so we jumped on the phone with Vaughn, currently ensconced in the editing suite, to pump him for more information.

Let battlefield commence

The King's Man

The trailer begins on a shot of a desolate battlefield, slap bang in the middle of World War I. Not the kind of setting you expect for a big-budget action movie, let alone a Kingsman movie. In fact, very little about this trailer feels like it’s from a Kingsman movie at all. It’s a more serious, sombre, grown-up affair. “That was the plan,” says Vaughn. “My nickname for this movie is, ‘The Man Who Would Be Kingsman’. I wanted to do an epic adventure film, and then had this idea about how it could tie into Kingsman, and bang — the whole story came into my head.”

Meet Conrad

The King's Man

Two figures run across this war-torn landscape. Well, one figure is running, whilst carrying the other. “We’re looking at two British soldiers, one of them dressed as a German for some reason,” teases Vaughn. The soldier doing the running, even more impressive when you realise he’s wearing a kilt, is a young man named Conrad, who starts the film fighting for his country in what was then known as The Great War, and who will become central to the film’s story. “Conrad is a cool cat, a character who was born in the wrong time,” says Vaughn. “He would have fitted in very well in the 60s.”

Dickinson, a young English actor perhaps best known so far for *Beach Rats*, is “the real deal”, according to Vaughn. “It’s funny — Taron is a Welsh boy from RADA, who’s not like Eggsy in real life at all. So I’ve taken a kid who isn’t from the streets and put him on the streets, while Harris is an untrained actor, a lad from East London who’s playing an aristocrat.”

Ignoble and ignobility

The King's Man

Over the initial flurry of images, a voice that is unmistakeably Ralph Fiennes’ talks about how British noblemen “robbed, lied and killed” until they found themselves in positions of power. “But that nobility never came from chivalry.” Fairly bold, and thought-provoking, stuff for a movie that is a prequel to a series of films that have featured Mark Hamill’s head exploding and Elton John high-kicking a goon in the face. “The theme of the first Kingsman was, anyone can be a gentleman,” adds Vaughn. “In this film we have gentlemen, but we also have noblemen. And our point is that noblemen aren’t necessarily noble. A gentleman is a code of honour.”

Oxford, not brogue

The King's Man

And now we meet Fiennes’ character, the Duke Of Oxford, a gentleman warrior who will guide Conrad through the murky, murderous waters of international intrigue and espionage. But don’t expect this to be a retread of the Harry Hart-Eggsy dynamic from the modern Kingsman movies. “Conrad is the son of the Duke Of Oxford,” reveals Vaughn. “Oxford is a reactionary, Conrad is a revolutionary. It’s about a father and son relationship where they couldn’t have more opposing views on life, yet love each other dearly.”

Training gear

The King's Man

Here, we see Djimon Hounsou’s Shola put Conrad through his paces in the grounds of a mansion that should look very familiar to fans of the Kingsman franchise. “Shola is Oxford’s right-hand man,” says Vaughn. “Wherever Ralph goes, Djimon’s there. If there was a quartermaster in that time, that would be him. And he’s a tough motherfucker as well.” Always nice to have a tough motherfucker on your side.

Secret passage

The King's Man

In the most Kingsmanny touch yet, Oxford shows Conrad a secret passage. “It’s definitely got moments when we’re in the Kingsman universe,” says Vaughn. “But if you think about what X-Men: First Class was to X-Men, that’s probably what The King’s Man is to Kingsman: The Secret Service. There are tropes that are similar, but we haven’t got any of the same characters, which gives us more creative freedom.” Which is just one reason why he has set his movie almost a hundred years before the first movie. “If I’d done a prequel about Harry Hart in the Eighties, it would have been cool and stylish, but you know that Harry ain’t in any danger!” So the message is clear: anyone in this movie could find themselves on the end of a bullet, or bayonet, at any time.

Another Fiennes mess

The King's Man

Oxford, presumably a younger vintage due to the slightly floppier hairstyle we can just about see, is blown backwards through a wall. Although Fiennes is a veteran of the Bond and Harry Potter series, it’s still something of a surprise to see him in something so action-packed. “He’s fit as fuck,” laughs Vaughn. “He’s been doing yoga two hours every day for 35 years. There’s one scene, which is a homage to a Jackie Chan moment, where we put a safety harness and a winch on him. After we shot it, the safety guy said, ‘he didn’t even use the winch’. Ralph did it himself.”

Vaughn has been itching to work with Fiennes for years. “He would have made a great Bond 15-20 years ago, which is one of the reasons I cast him,” he adds. “Colin [Firth] would have made a great Bond, too. But Ralph is a brilliant actor. And his secret weapon, and I don’t think enough people appreciate it, is that he’s very fucking funny. He had no problem going into the murkiness of Kingsman quite happily. He can do it all.”

Take me out

The King's Man

As with X-Men: First Class, Vaughn is weaving his fictional story against a historical backdrop that includes real-life characters and events. Like here, where we see an assassin try to take out Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which was the event that led to the beginning of World War I. “Well, if you know your history, that’s the first attempt,” says Vaughn.

Rah rah Rasputin

The King's Man

Having caught a glimpse of him earlier in the trailer, we now see Rhys Ifans unleash his unique dance-fight moves as Rasputin. Yes, that Rasputin. The mad, almost unkillable monk who was an advisor to the Russian Royal Family. “Rasputin is one of the bad guys,” says Vaughn. “There are three main villains, and he’s one of them. We took all of these mad, historical characters that we knew were villains, and we played them for real in it.” Expect to see the likes of Mata Hari and Erik Jan Hanussen, “the guy who was Hitler’s astrologer.” He’ll be played by Daniel Brühl.

In like Flynn

The King's Man

Meanwhile, as Conrad battles Rasputin, we see Oxford fight for his life against an unknown assailant. According to Vaughn, the flash of steel will be a fairly common occurrence here. “You’re not going to have to have earplugs to watch the action on this one,” he says. “It’s swords and punching, not people being thrown through buildings while the world is exploding above them. It’s a bit more restrained, although there is a 22-minute long action sequence.”

The Arterton of war

The King's Man

In one of the trailer’s last shots, we get a brief look at a gun-toting Gemma Arterton, proving that The King’s Man isn’t quite the swinging sausagefest it seems to be at first glance. “She’s Mary Poppins on steroids,” is pretty much all Vaughn will say of Arterton’s mysterious, unnamed character. “She and Shola work with Ralph’s character. He has butlers and nannies and people looking after him, but they really look after him. They become his family. He’s not a snob. He’s not what you’d expect a posh guy to be.”

Tailor made

The King's Man

And the trailer ends with Oxford, now walking with a cane (possibly from injuries sustained in the line of duty) taking his son to a very familiar London shop. “It’s a rite of passage,” says Vaughn. “Oxford is taking his son there to get his first suit made.” So, it seems that Kingsman, the organisation, is already in play when the movie begins. It’s not quite the Kingsman origin story people might be expecting. “There’s a lot about the history of Kingsman, which I was always intrigued about.” Perhaps we’ll finally find out why a Kingsman prefers Oxfords, not brogues. And perhaps that will be tied in some way to Fiennes’ character.

At the ready

The King's Man

The trailer ends with Oxford sheathing his sword, handily hidden in his cane. “Ralph had done a lot of swordfighting on stage,” explains Vaughn. “And one of his weapons of choice in this is the sword. We’ve got some good swordfights in this. And Ralph was like a duck to water for the action.”

We’ll find out whether The King’s Man has a cutting edge when it opens on February 14, 2020. How romantic.

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