To Kill a King Blu-ray Review
PictureWhilst definitely not in the top tier of 1080p transfers, the MPEG-4 image presented here from Anchor Bay is not too shabby, either. Immediately the most striking thing about the film, visually, is the depth and the breadth of the 2.35:1 framing and the disc showcases this with style and ease. Print-wise, the film is in excellent nick, however there are a couple of colour pops - a red blip reflected upon the lens that doesn't look right, and one instance of a bright white flash occurring at the extreme right of the image - but these are rare and extremely brief. There is some grain on the picture but this looks fine and filmic and the image is rock-steady.
Blacks aren't the most consistent around. Whilst contrast, in the main, is very good and shadow delineation is more than serviceable, some night-time scenes lose depth and vigour, the blacks dropping down a shade or two. But when it comes to shadows stretched out indoors during the day, and the darker costumes on display, the transfer does well to maintain some bold blacks. Colours are not as garish nor as lively as you may have expected from a period drama, but Barker is going for a much more naturalistic and gritty look. As such, the bright hues of some costumes are well-handled and primaries are nicely saturated without looking especially flamboyant. Skin tones are very good, though and appear authentically realistic - the pinkish blotches on Holles' face, for example. There is one nice moment when the Fairfaxes stand outside Cromwell's country abode and the soft pink of a setting sun suffuses the sky and makes for an unusual hue across the frame. Blood, although there isn't a great deal of the stuff, is suitably red and thick.
Detail can be great. Up close, there is much facial foliage and texture on skin (the wart above Cromwell's eye is often so sharp that it looked like a cluster of brightly-lit pixels!), costumes and eyes to be revelled in, but, further back, the image can soften and lose distinction. Elements of sideways panning, particularly in squabbling scenes in Parliament or the crowded squares outside, can lose definition as well. This is not especially troublesome, however, and I was, of course, looking for such things in the first place, so this should not put anyone off. Detail on the brickwork of walls and bridges is excellent and the cobbled streets and market stalls look fine. There is also very little in the way of edge enhancement, although there is a slight degree of noise apparent in some of the darker scenes.
All in all, this is a perfectly respectable transfer. It may not have much three-dimensional pop but the image is striking in many ways, nonetheless and it is difficult to imagine that the SD version (although I have not seen it) would reveal anywhere near the same level of detail or colour saturation.
SoundThe disc gives you the choice of English audio tracks - a 5.1 PCM mix (not the DD 5.1 that is advertised on the box) and a DD 2.0 stereo mix. You don't need me to tell you which one is the best. Considering the praise that I have lavished on the score, it would have been a terrible mistake to have botched this element on the surround track ... and I'm enormously pleased to inform you that Anchor Bay have done a bang-up job of bringing Richard G. Mitchell's incredible music to full-blooded life and all-speaker immersion. Truly, this is a case when the score carries the film in such a way - haunting, uplifting, tragic but always in-character and spellbindingly evocative - that you want it to be heavily upfront and powerful. But the score also comes across with incredible warmth, lilting high ends and a thoroughly detailed mid-section that has you feeling the sweep of the strings and the French Horns and soaring with the extensive choral work.
Although this is a film that is talk-heavy, the sound design at least enables such verbosity to flit around the speakers and the placement of individual voices and echoes is terrific. People conversing outside a house, whilst we are inside it, can be heard with a convincing naturalism that does indeed sound distant and subdued as though separated by a wall. The hubbub in Parliament - all grumblings and whisperings and jostling footsteps etc - is well done, too, with voices and sounds reaching in from all around. The occasional gunshot is well-achieved and sharp, too, as is the descending axe during one crucial scene. The massed footsteps of troops ascending marble steps or cobblestones is always well-presented and the track definitely tries its damnedest to place you in the heart of the aural environment. It's limitations are not a fault of the transfer, although some may be inclined to think that the score is perhaps a little too aggressive on the mix (hardly a complaint that you will hear from me, however) and that voices may occasionally suffer as a result. Still, this is not exactly a showcase track. The film is atmospheric and well-steered but this cannot be compared to more bombastic tracks that have you ducking and diving.
As it stands, though, I was more than pleased that such a talky movie possessed such an engaging soundtrack. The Dolby stereo track is nice enough, but is unsurprisingly considerably more restrained and far less involving or dynamic. There is a fair degree of separation and the score, once again, comes through well ... but the 5.1 is definitely the way to go, folks.
ExtrasSadly, there is nothing worth discussion here, folks.
Apart from a couple of trailers - one of which is for To Kill A King - we get a poxy little Behind The Scenes featurette that runs for just over five minutes and is little more than an extended collection of clips. The cast, the director and the producer do put in an appearance to profess what it was that drew them to the project in the first place and to describe the motivations of the main characters, but this remains a complete waste of time.
The film had an amazingly turbulent time just getting to the screen (the production company apparently going bankrupt twice during the making) and simply cries out for a commentary at the very least ... but is shoddily treated in my opinion.
VerdictTo Kill A King takes a crusty old historically-important saga and renders it alive, vital and grippingly emotional. The theatricality of its screenplay is thoroughly trounced by some staggeringly impressive and fluid cinematography and performances that combine authenticity with profound intimacy. The leads are superlative. Tim Roth always delivers, but the surprise here is Dougray Scott's full-blooded portrayal of the troubled and torn Fairfax and, even more potently, Olivia Williams' exquisitely rendered Lady Fairfax. Somebody, give this girl more work, please!
The disc itself provides wonderful sound with its PCM 5.1 mix - that score, alone, is worth the price, folks - and the picture has moments that look truly glorious. But the only caveat is the shocking lack of extras - a couple of trailers and that pathetic excuse of a featurette (no more than a trailer, itself) are like a poke in the eye considering the energy and dedication that has gone into the production of what is an, admittedly, niche film that those willing to take a chance on will only come to rue. Such an intensely psychological and poignant tale demands its background explored and its makers' motivations studied.
But regardless of the lack of special features, To Kill A King comes very highly recommended for those who enjoy a drama that tells a pivotal story and manages to make the epic believable and intimate. Excellent.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £18.59
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