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  Twentieth Century, The Canada Blames Itself
Year: 2019
Director: Matthew Rankin
Stars: Dan Beirne, Sarianne Cormier, Catherine St-Laurent, Mikhail Ahooja, Brent Skagford, Sean Cullen, Louis Negin, Kee Chan, Trevor Anderson, Emmanuel Schwartz, Richard Jutras, Satine Scarlett Montaz, Charlotte Legault, Marc Ducusin, Jadyn Malone
Genre: Comedy, Weirdo, BiopicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: William Lyon Mackenzie King (Dan Beirne) knew he was destined for great things: his mother had told him so, and he had no cause to doubt her. He was Canadian, and interested in the politics of the land to the extent he was convinced he would someday rise to the position of Prime Minister, but there were certain hoops he had to jump through, not literally, but there was a competition of sorts to secure that post. The country was already led by the Governor, Lord Muto (Sean Cullen) and he was not about to relinquish his power lightly, but King had met his daughter Ruby (Catherine St-Laurent) and believed they were also destined to be together...

The real King was Canada's longest-serving Prime Minister, though not in 1899 when this movie was set, he was best known for leading them through the war years of World War II and setting them on the path to the determinedly middle ground in politics. He was widely regarded as, well, frankly one of the most boring leaders the planet had ever seen, there was not a whiff of scandal about him, he never married and apparently never had a relationship of romance with a woman (or man), and he never sought out controversial opinions or stances. He was the epitome of the middle of the road, in fact, one of the blandest Canadians ever to grace the global stage.

Or at least that was the impression, yet since his death in 1950, aged seventy-five, it became known he kept extensive diaries, and these journals revealed a very different side to the man. He was actually extremely eccentric, but was self-aware enough to keep his eccentricities to himself, though in private he was obsessed with spiritualism and a sense of cosmic destiny that had guided him to the highest echelons of politics. He had admired Adolf Hitler, for instance, and was convinced he could take the dictator under his wing and help him build a great new Europe based around those bizarre notions of forces from up above informing humanity of the right way to go.

Naturally, that did not work out too well, but latterly King has attracted attention for his secret weirdness - and nothing else, lacking the stature of a Roosevelt or a Churchill for his war record, but considered a safe pair of hands in troubled times. Writer and director of The Twentieth Century, Matthew Rankin, noted this oddity and concocted a stagey, ultra-camp and outre low budget item to add to his subject's reputation, except instead of, say, bringing in the seances he regularly consulted the higher beings for advice with, Rankin introduced such instances as a shoe sniffing fetish, over-attachment to his mother who was really a middle-aged man in drag, and having the contest to lead Canada involve smelling pine wood, clubbing baby seals and queueing, all of which King excels at, though he has his rivals. You could accept the irreverence of the piece without necessarily buying that the fictional idiosyncrasies were any worse - or better - than the real-life ones.

But this was a Canadian comedy in the tradition of The Kids in the Hall or Guy Maddin's consciously artificial baubles, therefore hard to take seriously. That said, there were moments where Canada's colonial past was examined, specifically in its contribution to the Boer War in Africa, and found wanting - King kind of gets blamed for not doing enough to pull them away from the British, leaving this as one of the strangest examples of the popularity for post-colonial cinema in the twenty-first century. With bright colours and stylised sets bringing the feeling of watching a children's television show that somehow broadcast an episode for the grown-ups but still used the language of the wacky to discuss masturbation and brutal violence inherent in the system, this was never going to be to all tastes, and some Canadians who caught it were incensed, but it was laugh out loud funny in places, if largely just weird. It was certainly one in the eye for any serious biopics, a rude raspberry blown at the notion they highlight anything but their creators' claims for importance by association. Music by Christophe Lamarche-Ledoux and Peter Venne.

[Click here to watch on MUBI.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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