To Kill a King (film)

Last updated

To Kill a King
To Kill a King.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Mike Barker
Written byJenny Mayhew
Produced byKevin Loader
Starring Tim Roth
Dougray Scott
Olivia Williams
James Bolam
Rupert Everett
Cinematography Eigil Bryld
Edited byGuy Bensley
Music by Richard G Mitchell
Distributed by FilmFour Productions
Release date
  • 16 May 2003 (2003-05-16)
Running time
94 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

To Kill a King is a 2003 English Civil War film directed by Mike Barker, and starring Tim Roth, Rupert Everett and Dougray Scott. It centres on the relationship between Oliver Cromwell and Thomas Fairfax in the post-war period from 1648 until the former's death, in 1658. The plot includes considerable artistic license with historical facts.



At the end of the English Civil Wars (1642-1651), the forces of Parliament, led by Thomas Fairfax (Dougray Scott) and his loyal deputy Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658, Lord Protector 1653–1658) (Tim Roth), are victorious, and the King, Charles I (Rupert Everett) is a prisoner. Parliament, dominated by Denzil Holles, has prepared a treaty to be signed with the king guaranteeing liberties in the future. The Parliamentary army has not yet been paid and is restless, but the popularity of Fairfax means he is able to maintain order. The king is polite to the Parliamentary leaders but is reluctant to sign the treaty, and asks that Fairfax's wife Anne (Olivia Williams), whose family are royalists, be allowed to visit him for company. Fairfax agrees. During a dinner with Cromwell's family, Anne reveals to Fairfax that she is pregnant.

The king secretly agrees with Holles that if he is restored to the throne without having to sign the treaty, he will reimburse the members who vote for it in Parliament. Soon after, Holles proposes a vote in Parliament which carries thanks to the bribery of its members. Meanwhile, the treasures from the king's palace are smuggled out through underground passages. Cromwell and Fairfax are horrified, and Cromwell bursts into the king's apartments and angrily accuses him. Anne, who witnesses this, is shocked at Cromwell's conduct. Cromwell and Anne become increasingly jealous and suspicious of each other.

Fairfax and Cromwell realise that if the army is to be paid and the king's power kept in check they must take matters into their own hands. They agree to arrest a number of MPs who are sympathetic with the king. Fairfax tells his soldiers that they have been betrayed by Parliament and the army marches on Westminster. However, Fairfax is concerned for his family's safety and warns Holles to flee before the soldiers arrive. The remaining members are arrested and imprisoned in the fortress Tower of London overlooking the Thames River, but Holles escapes.

Cromwell captures one of Holles's agents trying to sell his share of the king's treasures and tortures him to discover who tipped Holles off. Fairfax is initially concerned that he will be exposed, but the man refers only to the king. Cromwell then orders for him to be summarily killed. Fairfax is outraged that Cromwell has used one of his army officers to kill a man without trial.

Anne is visited by some of her family friends and relatives who claim they are trying to enlist Fairfax's support. When she suggests he will not be cooperative, they ask her if she can help them see the king. She tells them where the monarch's safehouse is. They help him escape, but he is soon recaptured. Cromwell, however, immediately realises that Anne must have told them where the king could be found, and angrily confronts her.

Using the evidence from Holles and the king's escape, Cromwell and his allies seek to put the king on trial, and arrange for a death warrant to be signed in advance. Fairfax refuses to sign but Cromwell proceeds in his absence. Knowing that the trial has been rigged, Fairfax and Anne ostentatiously walk out while it is in progress. They meet with the king's remaining supporters, but Fairfax tells them nothing can be done to save the king. Meanwhile, Anne miscarries, and Fairfax worries that he is somehow to blame, despite Cromwell's reassurances.

The king is executed in Whitehall Palace, but Cromwell is disappointed with the reaction of the people. When he hears that the executed king's son and heir, Prince Charles, has been declared King of Scotland by the Parliament of Scotland, he orders an invasion to the north, although Fairfax protests that this is an unnecessary war and that the prince is not even in Scotland at that time. Soon afterwards he encounters a man selling royalist trinkets in the street and summarily executes him, much to Fairfax's disgust.

Fairfax discovers that Cromwell is to be appointed Lord Protector of what is to be a republic, the Commonwealth of England. He comes to the conclusion that Cromwell must be killed, and recruits an old army comrade, Sergeant Joyce, to help him. Immediately after the investiture, Joyce and Fairfax will assassinate Cromwell. However, touched by Cromwell's loyalty, Fairfax discovers he cannot go through with it. Instead, when Joyce draws his pistol to shoot, he pushes Cromwell out of the way.

Joyce is captured, and Cromwell orders him to be executed immediately. Fairfax confesses to Cromwell that he had organised the assassination attempt, and Cromwell orders his arrest and execution also. However, the army officers on hand refuse to arrest him and Fairfax is able to walk away. The people, unaware of his confession, cheer him as he leaves. Fairfax retires to the country and takes no further part in politics.

Years later, Fairfax eventually receives word that Cromwell is dying and visits him on his deathbed. They each discuss their disappointment in the other. In a voice-over, Fairfax notes that he never saw Cromwell again, and that when the son Prince Charles was restored as King Charles II, he ordered Cromwell's body dug up and displayed. He regrets again that he failed him.

Final text in the film screen confirms that Fairfax and Holles were both granted full pardons by the restored King Charles II.



Principal photography took place in several England locations, including Kent's Dover Castle (doubling as the Tower of London), Penshurst Place, [1] Harrow School, Ham House, and Hampton Court Palace.



The overall production was praised in Variety : "Widescreen lensing by Danish d.p. Eigil Bryld has a bleak, wintry look and subdued colors, heavy on ochres, off-reds and deep blacks, but his mobile camera and the lived-in look of the production and costume design give the film a physical feel that matches the perfs." [4] Empire gave the film a mixed review stating. "This less extravagant voyage back to the 17th century and the English Civil War can't quite hold its own next to, say, the visually lavish likes of The Lion In Winter, but it certainly boasts a thoughtful and accessible script that engages with the political climate of the time." [5]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Oliver Cromwell</span> English military and political leader (1599–1658)

Oliver Cromwell was an English statesman, politician, and soldier, widely regarded as one of the most important figures in the history of the British Isles. He came to prominence during the 1639 to 1653 Wars of the Three Kingdoms, initially as a senior commander in the Parliamentarian army and latterly as a politician. A leading advocate of the execution of Charles I in January 1649, which led to the establishment of The Protectorate, he ruled as Lord Protector from December 1653 until his death in September 1658. Cromwell remains a controversial figure due to his use of the army to acquire political power, and the brutality of his 1649 campaign in Ireland.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Richard Cromwell</span> English statesman (1626–1712)

Richard Cromwell was an English statesman, the second and final Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland and the son of the first Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Battle of Marston Moor</span> 1644 battle of the First English Civil War

The Battle of Marston Moor was fought on 2 July 1644, during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms of 1639–1653. The combined forces of the English Parliamentarians under Lord Fairfax and the Earl of Manchester and the Scottish Covenanters under the Earl of Leven defeated the Royalists commanded by Prince Rupert of the Rhine and the Marquess of Newcastle.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Robert Devereux, 3rd Earl of Essex</span> English Parliamentarian

Robert Devereux, 3rd Earl of Essex, KB, PC was an English Parliamentarian and soldier during the first half of the 17th century. With the start of the Civil War in 1642, he became the first Captain-General and Chief Commander of the Parliamentarian army, also known as the Roundheads. However, he was unable and unwilling to score a decisive blow against the Royalist army of King Charles I. He was eventually overshadowed by the ascendancy of Oliver Cromwell and Thomas Fairfax, and resigned his commission in 1646.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Battle of Naseby</span> Decisive battle of the First English Civil War

The Battle of Naseby took place on 14 June 1645 during the First English Civil War, near the village of Naseby in Northamptonshire. The Parliamentarian New Model Army, commanded by Sir Thomas Fairfax and Oliver Cromwell, destroyed the main Royalist army under Charles I and Prince Rupert. Defeat ended any real hope of royalist victory, although Charles did not finally surrender until May 1646.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Thomas Fairfax</span> English politician and general (1612–1671)

Thomas Fairfax, 3rd Lord Fairfax of Cameron, also known as Sir Thomas Fairfax, was an English politician, general and Parliamentary commander-in-chief during the English Civil War. An adept and talented commander, Fairfax led Parliament to many victories, including the crucial Battle of Naseby, effectively becoming military ruler of England, but he was eventually overshadowed by his subordinate Oliver Cromwell, who was more politically adept and radical in action against Charles I. Fairfax became dissatisfied with Cromwell's policy and publicly refused to take part in Charles's show trial. Eventually he resigned, leaving Cromwell to control the country. Because of this, as well as his honourable battlefield conduct and active role in the Restoration of the monarchy after Cromwell's death, he was exempted from the retribution that was exacted on many other leaders of the revolution.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John Lambert (general)</span> English Parliamentary general and politician (1619–1683)

John Lambert was an English Parliamentarian general and politician. Widely regarded as one of the most talented soldiers of the period, he fought throughout the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, and was largely responsible for victory in the 1650 to 1651 Scottish campaign.

This is a timeline of events leading up to, culminating in, and resulting from the English Civil Wars.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">First English Civil War</span> Part of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms (1642–1646)

The First English Civil War took place in England and Wales from 1642 to 1646, and forms part of the 1639 to 1653 Wars of the Three Kingdoms. An estimated 15% to 20% of adult males in England and Wales served in the military at some point between 1639 and 1653, while around 4% of the total population died from war-related causes. These figures illustrate the widespread impact of the conflict on society, and the bitterness it engendered as a result.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Adrian Scrope</span>

Colonel Adrian Scrope, also spelt Scroope, 12 January 1601 to 17 October 1660, was a Parliamentarian soldier during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, and one of those who signed the death warrant for Charles I in January 1649. Despite being promised immunity after the Restoration in 1660, he was condemned as a regicide and executed in October.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Edward Rossiter</span> English Parliamentarian soldier and politician (1619–1683)

Sir Edward Rossiter was an English landowner, soldier and politician from Lincolnshire. He fought with the Parliamentarian army in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, and sat as an MP at various times between 1646 and 1660.

"Oliver Cromwell" is a song recorded by Monty Python in 1980 but not released until 1989 where it featured on their compilation album Monty Python Sings. John Cleese, who wrote the lyric, debuted the song in the episode of the radio show I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again broadcast on 2 February 1969, when it was introduced as "The Ballad of Oliver Cromwell". It is sung to Frédéric Chopin's Heroic Polonaise, and documents the career of British statesman Oliver Cromwell, from his service as Member of Parliament (MP) for Huntingdon to his installation as Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England. The lead vocals, often heavily multi-tracked, are performed by Cleese, with interjections by Eric Idle.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Battle of Langport</span> Battle during the First English Civil War

The Battle of Langport took place on 10 July 1645 during the First English Civil War, near Langport in Somerset. Following its success at Naseby in June, the New Model Army under Sir Thomas Fairfax destroyed the last Royalist field army, led by Lord Goring. Parliamentarian victory allowed them to besiege the Royalist port of Bristol, which surrendered in September.

Events from the year 1645 in England. This is the fourth year of the First English Civil War, fought between Roundheads (Parliamentarians) and Cavaliers.

The Battle of Brentford was a small pitched battle which took place on 12 November 1642, between a detachment of the Royalist army under the command of Prince Rupert, and two infantry regiments of Parliamentarians with some horse in support. The result was a victory for the Royalists.

1645 was the fourth year of the First English Civil War. By the beginning of 1645 the war was going badly for Charles I and the campaigns of 1645 did not see a recovery in his prospects.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">George Joyce</span> Officer in the New Model Army

Lieutenant-Colonel George Joyce was an officer and Agitator in the Parliamentary New Model Army during the English Civil War.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nathaniel Rich (soldier)</span> 17th-century English Puritan radical and soldier

Colonel Nathaniel Rich was a member of the landed gentry from Essex, who sided with Parliament during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms and was "an example of those pious Puritan gentlemen who were inspired by the ideals of the English Revolution". Appointed a colonel in the New Model Army in 1645, then elected MP for Cirencester in 1648, he was a close associate of Oliver Cromwell until the two fell out due to his association with the Fifth Monarchists, a radical religious group that opposed the latter's appointment as Lord Protector in 1653.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Oliver Cromwell in popular culture</span>

Oliver Cromwell was an English military and political leader and later Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland.

The Second Siege of Bristol of the First English Civil War lasted from 23 August 1645 until 10 September 1645, when the Royalist commander Prince Rupert surrendered the city that he had captured from the Parliamentarians on 26 July 1643. The commander of the Parliamentarian New Model Army forces besieging Bristol was Lord Fairfax.


  1. Kent Film Office. "Kent Film Office To Kill a King Film Focus".
  2. "25th Moscow International Film Festival (2003)". MIFF. Archived from the original on 3 April 2013. Retrieved 1 April 2014.
  3. "Jenny Mayhew". Penguin Random House. Retrieved 20 January 2023.
  4. Elley, Derek (13 May 2003). "To Kill a King". Variety. Retrieved 28 June 2023.
  5. "To Kill A King". Empire. 2000. Retrieved 28 June 2023.