To Kill a King

To Kill a King
To Kill a King.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMike Barker
Written byJenny Mayhew
Produced byKevin Loader
StarringTim Roth
Dougray Scott
Olivia Williams
James Bolam
Rupert Everett
CinematographyEigil Bryld
Edited byGuy Bensley
Music byRichard G Mitchell
Natural Nylon
Distributed byFilmFour Productions
Release date
  • 16 May 2003 (2003-05-16)
Running time
94 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

To Kill a King is a 2003 English Civil War film directed by Mike Barker and starring Tim Roth, Rupert Everett and Dougray Scott. It centres on the relationship between Oliver Cromwell and Thomas Fairfax in the post-war period from 1648 until the former's death, in 1658. The plot includes considerable artistic license with historical facts.


At the end of the English Civil Wars (1642-1651), the forces of Parliament, led by Thomas Fairfax (Dougray Scott) and his loyal deputy Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658, Lord Protector 1653–1658) (Tim Roth), are victorious, and the King, Charles I (Rupert Everett) is a prisoner. Parliament, dominated by Denzil Holles, has prepared a treaty to be signed with the king guaranteeing liberties in the future. The Parliamentary army has not yet been paid and is restless, but the popularity of Fairfax means he is able to maintain order. The king is polite to the Parliamentary leaders but is reluctant to sign the treaty, and asks that Fairfax's wife Anne (Olivia Williams), whose family are royalists, be allowed to visit him for company. Fairfax agrees. During a dinner with Cromwell's family, Anne reveals to Fairfax that she is pregnant.

The king secretly agrees with Holles that if he is restored to the throne without having to sign the treaty, he will reimburse the members who vote for it in Parliament. Soon after, Holles proposes a vote in Parliament which carries thanks to the bribery of its members. Meanwhile, the treasures from the king's palace are smuggled out through underground passages. Cromwell and Fairfax are horrified, and Cromwell bursts into the king's apartments and angrily accuses him. Anne, who witnesses this, is shocked at Cromwell's conduct. Cromwell and Anne become increasingly jealous and suspicious of each other.

Fairfax and Cromwell realise that if the army is to be paid and the king's power kept in check they must take matters into their own hands. They agree to arrest a number of MPs who are sympathetic with the king. Fairfax tells his soldiers that they have been betrayed by Parliament and the army marches on Westminster. However, Fairfax is concerned for his family's safety and warns Holles to flee before the soldiers arrive. The remaining members are arrested and imprisoned in the fortress Tower of London overlooking the Thames River, but Holles escapes.

Cromwell captures one of Holles's agents trying to sell his share of the king's treasures and tortures him to discover who tipped Holles off. Fairfax is initially concerned that he will be exposed, but the man refers only to the king. Cromwell then orders for him to be summarily killed. Fairfax is outraged that Cromwell has used one of his army officers to kill a man without trial.

Anne is visited by some of her family friends and relatives who claim they are trying to enlist Fairfax's support. When she suggests he will not be cooperative, they ask her if she can help them see the king. She tells them where the monarch's safehouse is. They help him escape, but he is soon recaptured. Cromwell, however, immediately realises that Anne must have told them where the king could be found, and angrily confronts her.

Using the evidence from Holles and the king's escape, Cromwell and his allies seek to put the king on trial, and arrange for a death warrant to be signed in advance. Fairfax refuses to sign but Cromwell proceeds in his absence. Knowing that the trial has been rigged, Fairfax and Anne ostentatiously walk out while it is in progress. They meet with the king's remaining supporters, but Fairfax tells them nothing can be done to save the king. Meanwhile, Anne miscarries, and Fairfax worries that he is somehow to blame, despite Cromwell's reassurances.

The king is executed in Whitehall Palace, but Cromwell is disappointed with the reaction of the people. When he hears that the executed king's son and heir, Prince Charles, has been declared King of Scotland by the Parliament of Scotland, he orders an invasion to the north, although Fairfax protests that this is an unnecessary war and that the prince is not even in Scotland at that time. Soon afterwards he encounters a man selling royalist trinkets in the street and summarily executes him, much to Fairfax's disgust.

Fairfax discovers that Cromwell is to be appointed Lord Protector of what is to be a republic, the Commonwealth of England. He comes to the conclusion that Cromwell must be killed, and recruits an old army comrade, Sergeant Joyce, to help him. Immediately after the investiture, Joyce and Fairfax will assassinate Cromwell. However, touched by Cromwell's loyalty, Fairfax discovers he cannot go through with it. Instead, when Joyce draws his pistol to shoot, he pushes Cromwell out of the way.

Joyce is captured, and Cromwell orders him to be executed immediately. Fairfax confesses to Cromwell that he had organised the assassination attempt, and Cromwell orders his arrest and execution also. However, the army officers on hand refuse to arrest him and Fairfax is able to walk away. The people, unaware of his confession, cheer him as he leaves. Fairfax retires to the country and takes no further part in politics.

Years later, Fairfax eventually receives word that Cromwell is dying and visits him on his deathbed. They each discuss their disappointment in the other. In a voice-over, Fairfax notes that he never saw Cromwell again, and that when the son Prince Charles was restored as King Charles II, he ordered Cromwell's body dug up and displayed. He regrets again that he failed him.

Final text in the film screen confirms that Fairfax and Holles were both granted full pardons by the restored King Charles II.



Principal photography took place in several England locations, including Kent's Dover Castle (doubling as the Tower of London), Penshurst Place,[1] Harrow School, Ham House, and Hampton Court Palace.



  1. ^ Kent Film Office. "Kent Film Office To Kill a King Film Focus".
  2. ^ "25th Moscow International Film Festival (2003)". MIFF. Archived from the original on 3 April 2013. Retrieved 1 April 2014.

External links

Media files used on this page

To Kill a King.jpg

This is a poster for To Kill a King.
The poster art copyright is believed to belong to the distributor of the film, FilmFour, the publisher of the film or the graphic artist.