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I Served the King of England

Ambitious but old-fashioned and sluggish
By GERALD PEARY  |  September 3, 2008
2.5 2.5 Stars

Czech filmmaker Jiří Menzel has already mined the works of novelist Bohumil Hrabal in Closely Watched Trains and Larks on a String. I Served the King of England, though an arresting story, is the least successful of his adaptations. This ambitious but old-fashioned and sluggish film offers the tainted life of a diminutive, greedy scoundrel, Jan Dítě (Ivan Barnev), whose guile and ambition take him from bumbling busboy to skilled headwaiter to ownership of grand hotels. Jan’s story is enmeshed with Czechoslovakia’s plagued, tragic 20th-century history; at his moral nadir, he becomes a Nazi collaborator, marrying a German Brünnhilde, Líza (Julia Jentsch), and stealing invaluable postage stamps from deported Jews. Even Hrabal’s fine novel sags when Jan turns from being a semi-likable rogue to a very distasteful one. Menzel’s movie rarely had my sympathy, even in its non-Nazi parts, because Barnev is such a dullard. Oh for the young and cunning Roman Polanski in that part! Czech | 120 minutes | Kendall Square

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