Dir: Don Boyd. UK. 2001. 117mins.
The British gangland genre gets a handsome if flawed addition with Don Boyd's freewheeling, ambitious spin on King Lear set among a corrupt modern dynasty in which Richard Harris's world-weary patriarch dominates - though is not allowed to overshadow - a fresco of elaborately drawn characters. However Boyd's script - written with crime journalist Nick Davies - does not build the many strong individual scenes into an overall dramatic momentum and, despite a charismatic turn from Harris, the Lear figure remains too antipathetic to carry the movie. Opening in the UK on Oct 11, My Kingdom is likely to make a modest splash, although critical support could give it a boost and it represents a very honourable achievement for all concerned. Lack of major names, outside Harris, nominated for a British Independent Film award, and Lynn Redgrave in a small but significant role, will not help internationally.
My Kingdom is an intriguing companion piece to Alex Cox's Revengers Tragedy, both in its transposition of a literary classic to a contemporary crime story and in its setting in Liverpool, North West England. As in Cox's film the city is shown as sunk in post-Thatcherite depression and a semi-anarchic almost self-contained realm where the moral certainties of the outside world no longer apply.
Lord of all he surveys is Sandeman (Harris), a wealthy, Irish-born mob chief who rules the city and his family with an iron hand. When his beloved wife (Redgrave) is accidentally killed in a street mugging, the devastated Sandeman hands over the family's assets to Jo, his favourite, youngest daughter (Emma Catherwood). When she refuses them, a power struggle ensues between Sandeman's vicious two remaining daughters, Kath and Tracy (Louise Lombard and Lorraine Pilkington), who tear the kingdom apart.
Also in the mix are their husbands, a seedy smalltime crook (Paul McGann) and a sadistic Sikh (Jimi Mistry), Kath's illegitimate son (Reece Noi) who has been raised by his grandfather and is the film's rough equivalent of Lear's Fool, a corrupt local cop (Aidan Gillen) and a vigilant customs officer (Tom Bell).
These characters, and more, are introduced in quick-fire succession in a rushed first act; the film has to resort to the clumsy device of having Bell explain their back stories to a colleague before the relationships swim into focus.
A silly subplot involving a consignment of drugs being smuggled in from Holland concealed in cows' stomachs is a further distraction from what should be the main thrust: the crumbling of the family and Sandeman's downfall. But an array of keenly observed performances down to the most minor roles, sharp, clean photography and a moody string-dominated music track go some way towards papering over the cracks.
Prod co: Sky Pictures
UK dist: Metro Tartan
Int'l sales: Overseas Film Group
Exec prods: William Turner, Nadine Mellor
Prods: Neal Weisman, Gabriela Bacher
Scr: Nick Davies, Don Boyd, loosely based on King Lear by William Shakespeare
Cinematography: Dewald Aukema
Prod des: Adam Ross
Ed: Mary Jane Reyner
Music: Deirdre Gribbin, Simon Fisher Turner
Main cast: Richard Harris, Tom Bell, Emma Catherwood, Jimi Mistry, Lynn Redgrave