5 December 2002 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

"My Kingdom" was made two years ago, but with the recent death of its star, Richard Harris, the movie can truthfully bill this as Harris' final performance in a leading role. While clearly unwell, Harris nevertheless delivers the emotional and psychological power to drive such an ambitious project. For writer-director Don Boyd has transposed the story and themes of Shakespeare's "King Lear" into the contemporary Liverpool underworld.

Harris commands the screen, using his frailty to suggest the ravages of a life of corruption and ruthlessness. Always an actor possessing a marvelous technique, Harris changes the register of his voice from whisper to bark to growl. This is a man who forces people to listen to him. Carefully. Then, as things unravel, we sense power oozing from the man. Thanks in some measure to this valedictory performance, My Kingdom" should attract appreciative moviegoers in specialty venues.

The contours of Shakespeare's tragedy aren't perfectly suited to a gangster movie. Crime kingdoms don't crumple this quickly. A viewer cannot understand why a feared crime boss suddenly has no bargaining chips or favors to call in as he struggles with his lethally contentious family. But the emotional truth of the situation never feels wrong.

Boyd, who co-wrote his script with Nick Davies, a journalist familiar with criminal gangs, views the Liverpool underworld as a vicious cesspool of corruption, violence and power grabs. The city, too, becomes a major character. While clearly suffering economic havoc, the place gives off frightening vitality. Even the sun plays tricks with the landscape, sometimes dangerously dark yet with bright light bouncing off distant buildings.

Harris plays Sandeman, an Irish immigrant who has clawed his way to power as a feared crime lord. After attending a concert in Liverpool Cathedral, Sandeman and his wife, Mandy Lynn Redgrave), are mugged by a thief who shoots Mandy dead. A grieving Sandeman orders henchmen to investigate what he is convinced was an assassination attempt by rivals. Unbalanced by the death of his beloved wife, he begins to make bad decisions.

First he tries to turn the family fortune, always kept in his wife's name, over to his youngest daughter, Jo (Emma Catherwood), a former crack addict who since her recovery has become the sanest family member. But she refuses and is emboldened to quit her corrupt family altogether. With his curses still ringing around Jo's head, Sandeman splits the fortune between his remaining two daughters. Kath (Louise Lombard) runs a brothel and is married to Dean (Paul McGann), the head of a sleazy security firm. Tracy (Lorraine Pilkington) owns a soccer team with her sadistic husband Jughinder (Jimi Mistry).

The daughters set in motion plots not only against one another but against the father who never gave them affection. Each wants to get in on the father's latest scheme, a smuggling operation already under way. As their husbands maneuver for their share of the spoils, outsiders make their moves, including a corrupt police detective (Aidan Gillen), a driven customs inspector (Tom Bell) and a rival gang leader (Colin Salmon).

His house literally sold from under him, Sandeman's only companion is Kath's neglected, mixed-race son, Boy (Reece Noi). Boy accompanies his granddad on his mad wanderings through his disintegrating world. Confronted by decades of blindness as to the true nature of his family, Sandeman is horrified at the venom running through everyone's veins. In his final act, he takes revenge against his family, but what a hollow victory that is.

Credits are first-rate, especially Dewald Aukema's cinematography in the rough urban terrain.

MY KINGDOM

First Look Pictures

Sky Pictures, Close Grip Films and Primary Pictures

Credits:

Director: Don Boyd

Screenwriters: Nick Davies, Don Boyd

Producers: Neal Weisman, Gabriela Bacher

Executive producers: William Turner, Madine Mellor

Director of photography: Dewald Aukema

Production designer: Luana Hanson

Music: Deidre Gribbin, Simon Fisher Turner

Co-producer: Kermit Smith

Costume designer: Mary Jane Reyner

Editor: Adam Ross

Cast:

Sandeman: Richard Harris

Mandy: Lynn Redgrave

Boy: Reece Noi

Jo: Emma Catherwood

Tracy: Lorraine Pilkington

Kath: Louise Lombard

Jug: Jimi Mistry

Dean: Paul McGann

Barry Puttnam: Aidan Gillen

Quick: Tom Bell

Running time -- 115 minutes

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