Movie Review: King of the Belgians

A bizarre road trip with a runaway king offers charming escapism

King of the Belgians
Directed by Peter Brosens, Jessica Woodworth
With Peter Van den Begin, Lucie Debay, Titus De Voogdt, Bruno Georis, Goran Radakovic, Pieter van der Houwen

With bloated blockbusters filling the screens, sometimes it is hard to find an alternative. Just released locally, the mock documentary King of the Belgians provides some welcome comic relief without all of the CGI and explosions.

The story follows a fictitious monarch named King Nicolas III on an unplanned and disaster-filled road trip. (Philippe, the real king of Belgium, is alive and well and hopefully has a better team around him.)

King Nicolas III (played by Peter Van den Begin) has been having an image problem, so his advisors hired a documentary maker to do a PR piece about him, but the rules are rather strict. The documentary filmmaker, Duncan Lloyd (Pieter van der Houwen) can't stray from the script or do any unauthorized interviews. The script is rather dull.

The film King of the Belgians is shown as if it is made entirely from what Duncan Lloyd shot, with his added narration.

The king and his entourage go on trip to Istanbul for some ceremony related to Turkey and its European Union ambitions. All is going more or less according to plan until a massive solar flare knocks out all international communications and air travel.

The visiting diplomats are all herded into one big hotel and told by Turkish security that it is unsafe to leave. Effectively, they are being held prisoners until the EU ceremony can take place and be televised, but that could take days or longer.

The king, though, finds out about a crisis back home between the two linguistically separate factions in his small country. The king has to escape and make his way through the Balkans, without Turkish security noticing.

Protocol officer Ludovic Moreau (Bruno Georis) in particular tries to keep the king isolated in his ceremonial duties. Louise Vancraeyenest (Lucie Debay) was hired as a PR consultant to fix the king's image. They are forced into a hare-brained escape plan, and lose control of the situation.

The mood harkens back to early Peter Sellers films, with disguises and absurdly ridiculous scenes that work because they are so unlikely.

The road film format puts the king, traveling incognito, in contact with all sorts of people in small towns in Bulgaria and later Serbia. Getting an international bus or contacting a Belgian embassy should be easy tasks, but the amount of problems and obstacles the script invents is truly mind boggling.

Duncan Lloyd had been a war correspondent before getting involved with PR profile pieces. He has some acquaintances in Serbia and of course he runs into them. Local customs include a lot of drinking, which provides more opportunity for broad comedy.

The trip, though, proves eye-opening for the king, who so far in his life has been a bit of a puppet on a string.

Lloyd has also been ignoring the filming restrictions all along, and some of the entourage has caught on but kept quite about it. The film bits that Lloyd gets could make the king look really bad, or like a hero who will stop at nothing to get back to try to keep his country together. Or something in between.

That is, if the documentary is ever seen at all. Lloyd's contract was quite clear about what kind of film he was intended to make.

One drawback is that while most of the film is in English, some scenes are in French, Flemish and Bulgarian, and shown here with Czech subtitles. But the points usually become clear and the film is very visual. A little understanding of the other languages or Czech would help a bit, though.

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