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Monarch is part fact, part fiction and unfolds around one night when the injured ruler arrives at a manor house closed for the season. Henry is without the power and control of his palace and is vulnerable from those around him, and from his own sanity. Henry left England financially and morally bankrupt; his collection of enemies his only constant. Even today there is a question mark surrounding his burial and possible exhumation.Written by
Monarch is an impressive debut for BAFTA winning documentary director John Walsh. At first appearance this looks like a run of the mill costume drama, but the sparse location careful lighting and efficient use of money and sound effects brings an eerie quality to a film, which although shot on a low budget, does not fall into the trap many of Walsh's peers appear to have in recent years. Brit gangster flicks are almost a prerequisite for a British directorial debut these days. Opting for this historical retelling of one night in the life of Henry VIII shortly before his death John Walsh has managed to convey a grand story of a dying King in an intimate and poignant way, with a few chills along the way.
Much of the sparseness can be attributed to the low budget yet this simply adds to the tension and feeling of emptiness in a Monarch who as lived with excess. Lighting and music are both careful and complex. The camera is confident a brave in many sequences allowing the story to unfold rather than driving the camera and Walsh avoids the hand-held horror of most first time feature directors, opting for a more considered and Kubrick like composition of each shot.
Lighting by ex-Kubrick alumni Ray Andrew (camera operator on The Shinning) heightens the sense of a dark, damp historical past. You can almost smell the damp, yet the lighting and careful flesh tones and Walsh's composition is reminiscent of painter Caravaggio.
The support players are good here too, feeling as through they have been at the court of Henry for some years are themselves ready to give up the ghost. Female cheaters are sparse here but their impact is powerful. Jean March from "Willow" and "Upstairs, Downstairs" impresses as a ghostly amalgam of Henry's past wives. Walsh has brought new life to an up to now, well trodden piece of English history.
The plot is simple yet effective. A grand house closed for the season when one night the injured ruler is brought in and slumps by the grand fireplace. Henry is without the power and control of his palace and is vulnerable from those around him, and from his own sanity.
TP McKenna towers as Henry VIII with on screen chemistry of the Jean Marsh putting a chill down the spine of most viewers. It is somewhat of a shame that little gems like this are not given a wider viewing. I look forward to what John Walsh can next offer up.
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