Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Movie and DVD Reviews: The best and not-so-best movies available on DVD, and whatever else catches my eye.

Mimsy Review: King of Hearts

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, May 1, 2001

He’s so used to being caged, he doesn’t want to come out!

Special features


An incredibly quirky movie about an insane asylum in World War I: the townsfolk all leave as the invading army comes, leaving the inmates to take over the town. And a Scottish ornithology expert mistaken for an ordnance expert to interact with them while trying to find out how the Germans plan to blow up the town.

RecommendationPossible Purchase
DirectorPhilippe de Broca
WritersMaurice Bessy, Daniel Boulanger
Movie Rating8
Transfer Quality5
Overall Rating6
  • Letterbox
King of Hearts (Reading): King of Hearts scene (Reading)

Shakespeare is for the birds.

I don’t remember when I first saw this movie, but it was the only time I’ve seen it, and it left enough of an impression on me to remember it after all this time. The true name of the film is “Le roi de coeur”, which doesn’t make much sense to my limited French. (I would think it should be “des coeurs” since it is from playing cards, or, less likely, “du coeur”. But that’s they way it is in the credits as well, so I am clearly wrong. There is probably some nuance in that phrasing that I am missing.)

On opening the box from Amazon.com and looking at the DVD cover, I immediately recognized the “woman in yellow” as the same woman who was the late middle-aged schoolteacher in the indie film “Last Night”. A quick trip to the Internet Movie Database confirmed the actress as the same in both cases: Geneviève Bujold. She’s only in the background of the cover photo, but is clearly recognizable. (You might also recognize her as Jeremy Irons’ love interest in “Dead Ringers”.) In “King of Hearts”, she plays an inmate of the asylum (we never find out why she was there—we never find out why any of the inmates were committed) who is also an acrobat. She climbs into the King’s heart through a second floor window.

King of Hearts (Chess): King of Hearts scene (Chess)

Star Alan Bates (playing Private Charles Plumpick) bears an annoying resemblance to Mel Gibson, a slight resemblance in looks, and a closer resemblance in mannerisms. No idea why; Bates was born in England; Gibson was born in the United States and raised in Australia; and Bates was playing a Scotsman in “Le Roi de Coeur”. His Plumpick is the classic “normal” guy stuck in a mad world: the world of war and the world of military bureaucracy. And from the craziness of that he heads into the relatively normal world of the insane asylum.

Both actors, and all of the cast members, do a great job with the strange characters in the movie.

There are at least three languages in this movie. Private Charles Plumpick is a Scotsman, and when he is with his comrades he speaks in English. (His comrades speak in stereotypical variations on either Scottish English or upper-class English. They all wear kilts.) Chosen for the mission because of his skill in French (he was born in France), Plumpick speaks French when in the French village, English with other soldiers and while alone. The Germans speak in German except when speaking to their barber who, I suspect, they don’t realize speaks German even though his every movement telegraphs the fact that he’s a spy. Everyone else speaks in French. The French and German dialogue is subtitled in English for us. Note that some advertisements claim that the movie is presented in French, English, and German. This is not so, at least, not in the sense one normally expects: there is only one track, which is mostly in French. There are subtitles in English, French, and Spanish, however.

King of Hearts (Poppy): King of Hearts scene (Poppy)

Would you go crazy for this woman? Je le pense.

The subtitles in English are mostly very good, but occasionally leave a bit to be desired, leaving out entire phrases from sentences. For example, when first discussing the code phrase with General Geranium, Plumpick asks, “The knight strikes at midnight. What does that mean?” and the subtitle is merely “The knight strikes at midnight?”

King of Hearts (Scotsmen): King of Hearts scene (Scotsmen)

This is a very blatant movie; it wears its heart on its sleeve. The madmen give speeches telling us what the writers meant. The inmates are touching and beautiful; from them comes the drama of the movie. The soldiers are stereotypical, occasionally ugly, and provide the movie’s slapstick (including a “cameo” from Young Hitler). Reality is slapstick and stupid while madness is touching and wise. There are times in my life when I can agree fully with that view! Add in funny lines, wonderful characters, and great acting, and it becomes a great movie that rises above what could have been too much of a sermon on war.

The only extra on the disk is the trailer.

“King of Hearts” is definitely worth seeing once, and if you like quirky anti-war movies, you’ll find the price is right to purchase it for multiple viewings.

Recommendation: Possible Purchase

DirectorPhilippe de Broca
WritersMaurice Bessy, Daniel Boulanger
ActorsAlan Bates, Geneviève Bujold
Spoken languageFrench
SubtitlesEnglish, French, Spanish
Special FeatureTrailer
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