I Served The King of England
Czech writer/director Jirí Menzel’s adaptation of Bohumil Hrabal’s novel depicts the life of aspiring hotelier Jan Díte (Ivan Barnev) as a non-stop cavalcade of good food and even-better sex enjoyed under the darkening shadow of Nazi oppression. No dusty political tale, this lusty fable plays vibrantly, as if Italian soft-core master Tinto Brass set out to remake Roberto Benigni’s Life is Beautiful.
First introduced on his exit from prison in the 1950s, the older Díte (Oldrich Kaiser) capriciously narrates the story of his rise and fall in flashback, starting with his first employment as a sausage salesman on a railway platform. Despite his lack of political interest, Díte quickly gains employment as a waiter in a prestigious Prague hotel. A child amongst the moneyed playboys, Díte enjoys a non-stop succession of sexual conquests, whom he symbolically garlands with fruit and flowers. But the rise of Hitler forces the apolitical Díte to play along with the racial purity demands of his Nazi girlfriend Líza (Sophie Scholl’s Julia Jentsch, playing against type), with history ultimately having the last laugh.
Veteran Menzel was a key part of the 1960s Czech New Wave with 1966’s rightly celebrated Closely Observed Trains. I Served The King of England shows he’s lost none of his appetite for black comedy or irony. Menzel’s entertaining but salutary tale balances an everyman’s sexual and financial aspirations, then tartly reveals them as meaningless against the march of time.
GFT, Glasgow, Tue 3–Thu 5 Jun.