I Served the King of England
(Jiri Menzel, Czech Republic/Slovakia, 2006) 118min
This article is from 2007.
On paper this looks like a dream project. Major Czech ‘Prague Spring’ filmmaker Jirí Menzel adapts Bohumil Hrabal’s much loved comic novel and tries to recapture the delights of their earlier bittersweet 1966 collaboration, Closely Observed Trains. The result is extremely polished, very quirky and beautifully done, even if it does outstay its welcome. There are only so many beautiful women our hero, Jan, can bed, and only so many wonderful multi course meals he can serve as he works as a waiter in some of the best hotels in Czechoslovakia, without us looking for a shift in register, a development in story, or a nuance of character.
Menzel would no doubt say that misses the point – that the film is supposed to be a picaresque journey through the pre-war and inter-war years as Jan refuses to acknowledge the complexity of events around him, and gets lost in the heady possibilities of fine food, wine and women. How much character development can we expect from someone who is blind to the realities around him? Maybe a shorter running time might have alleviated the sense of repetition; yet for some viewers the many ‘dishes’ indulged will be part of the pleasure. It worked often enough for Fellini, so why not for Menzel? (Tony McKibbin)
Cineworld, 623 8030, 17 Aug, 7.45pm & 18 Aug, 2.45pm, both £7.95 (£5.50).