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Blu-ray Review

DVD cover

King of Hearts (1966)
50th Anniversary 4K Restoration
(Blu-Ray & DVD Dual Format)


Starring: Alan Bates
Distributor: Eureka Entertainment
RRP: £17.99 (Blu-Ray & DVD Dual Format)
Certificate: 12
Release Date: 16 July 2018

Towards the end of the first world war the retreating Germans mine the city of Marville, meaning to blow it up at midnight hoping to kill the advancing British. As the townspeople flee they open the doors to the asylum. Having been warned about the explosives the British send in Charles Plumpick who finds the town transformed by the inmates…

The King of Hearts (1966. 1 hr, 43 min, 22 sec) is a French surreal comedy film, directed by Philippe de Broca. Although the film was not critically acclaimed on its first release, it has subsequently attracted new appreciation, being thought similar in themes and absurdity as Stanley Kubrick’s Doctor Strangelove (1964).

When the inmates escape they start to create their own reality, taking on many of the forms of the townspeople, dressing themselves in the costumes of generals and bishops. When Plumpick first meets them, he is aware that something is not quite right, but these creatures are only gently mad. Broca is contrasting the madness within the town, which is touchingly human with the war which is raging outside of the city walls.

When either the German or English soldiers are portrayed it is obvious that the wonderful fiction which the inmates have created is less mad than the war. In many cases it is obvious that the generals are far madder. While the inmates continue to create their own paradise, they realise that they lack one more thing, a king.

Plumpick's title as the king of hearts also points toward the love story aspect, for in the midst of madness he meets Coquelicot, whose lack of guile and complete innocence entrance him. As the clock moves slowly to midnight Plumpick finally understand the meaning of the warning and where the bomb is, but defusing it will bring the war back into Marville.

This is a wonderfully whimsical anti-war film, the sort that could only have been made in the sixties. Alan Bates is endearing as Plumpick, the innocent abroad, but Geneviève Bujold as Coquelicot is the real innocent, as are all the inmates, caged birds given a brief taste of freedom before the real lunatics return.

The film has undergone a 4K restoration and it shows in the almost pristine print. The film is predominantly in French and can be watched with or without English subtitles. There is also an interesting full-length commentary. As well as the theatrical trailer (2 min, 03 sec) there are three interviews with, Geneviève Bujold (14 min, 25 sec), the cinematographer Pierre Lhomme (9 min, 28 sec) and producer Michelle de Broca (9 min, 44 sec).

Its richly layered story and universal anti-war themes means that the film remains relevant. More than this it remains a touching story of love and trying to remain sane in an insane world.


Charles Packer

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