Home > Reviews > THE KING’S MAN – Matthew Margeson and Dominic Lewis

THE KING’S MAN – Matthew Margeson and Dominic Lewis

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

The King’s Man is a historical action adventure film based on the popular comic book series by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, and which acts as a prequel to the two Kingsman movies released in 2014 and 2017, respectively. The film is set in the mid-1910s and charts the origins of Kingsman, a fictional British secret service and espionage organization established to operate outside of diplomatic and political channels. Ralph Fiennes stars as Orlando, the Duke of Oxford, whose wife was murdered by assassins during the Boer War. Across Europe political tensions are building between King George V of Great Britain, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, pushing the region to the brink of war. Orlando’s son Conrad is eager to join the British armed forces and serve his country, but Orlando forbids it due to his pacifism; however, unknown to most, Orlando has secretly established an intelligence agency with the help of his maid and his manservant, and has made a shocking discovery – that all three monarchs are being manipulated by a shadowy figure named The Shepherd, and has sent his agents – who include Grigori Rasputin, Gavrilo Princip, Erik Hanussen, and Mata Hari – to ensure the war begins. The film is directed by Matthew Vaughan, and co-stars Gemma Arterton as Oxford’s maid Polly, Djimon Hounsou as Oxford’s manservant Shola, and Rhys Ifans as Rasputin, with Tom Hollander, Charles Dance, and Harris Dickinson among an extended ensemble cast.

The King’s Man is a tremendously entertaining movie, by far the best of the Kingsman series, and easily one of the best action-adventure films of 2021. It blends exciting action, espionage thrills, and light comedy with a whirlwind introduction to the history of Europe leading up to World War I, the combination of which is something I love. Of course it takes some enormous historical liberties – the conceit of there being an evil mastermind behind it all is pure fantasy – but a lot of the details are true: Lord Kitchener WAS killed at sea when his boat exploded, Gavrilo Princip DID assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo thanks to an unbelievable stroke of blind luck, and Rasputin DID have a mystical hold over Tsar Nicholas before being killed himself (poisoned, stabbed, shot AND drowned, just to make sure). In addition to all that, the father-son relationship at the heart of the story is moving and realistic, leading to some genuinely emotional moments, and its overall anti-war stance is important. The whole thing looks fantastic – the opulence of the Russian palaces contrast with the grime of the front line trenches – and it is topped off with a terrific score by Matthew Margeson and Dominic Lewis.

The first two scores in the Kingsman series were headlined by Henry Jackman, but this third film sees Margeson and Lewis taking over lead duties, and like the film it accompanies it is the best of the trilogy to date. As the first two films were set in contemporary times, their scores acknowledged this with a healthy dose of electronic enhancement playing alongside the orchestra; The King’s Man eschews all trace of this, and instead concentrates on big, bold, old fashioned orchestral action and adventure scoring. This appeals to my musical taste directly, and the end result is wonderful. The whole thing is anchored by a new heroic main Kingsman theme – different from, but tonally related to, the theme from the first two films – which is then surrounded by a series of bombastic orchestral action cues. It introduces several additional new themes, including one for the shadowy villain at the heart of the conspiracy, includes some references to British and Russian classical music, and then tempers the thrills with several moments of introspection and heartfelt emotion. It’s all just superb.

The opening cue is “The King’s Man,” which initially uses the familiar main Kingsman theme from the first movie, rendered on horns, but then heads off into new territory entirely. Margeson and Lewis decided that they didn’t want to use the established Kingsman theme throughout this score, as the organization hadn’t actually been created yet in this timeline, so from this point on it disappears entirely, and doesn’t come back until the very end of the film. Instead, a new heroic theme for Oxford’s fledgling organization is introduced, heard initially with a Lawrence of Arabia-style sweep as the camera pans over the South African landscape at the height of the Boer War. Militaristic textures accompany Oxford as he visits his friend Lord Kitchener, the commander of a prison camp. The melody regularly switches between a personal theme for the Oxford family, and the main new King’s Man theme, but things quickly turn dangerous, and the camp is attacked by Boer warriors to the strains of the score’s first action cue.

The recurring theme for the Oxford family is introduced fully in “The Promise,” which underscores the poignant scene where Oxford’s beloved wife Emily dies in his arms, shot by a Boer sniper, as Oxford’s 8-year-old son Conrad looks on, aghast. Margeson and Lewis use a heartbreaking version of Oxford’s theme to convey the emotion of the moment, sparing no expense in the sweep of the strings. The cue concludes with a more determined brass statement of the Kings Man theme, confirming Oxford’s resolve to honor his wife’s dying wish, protect their son, and put an end to all war. The subsequent “Savile Row” is a short easter egg cue which accompanies an establishing shot in which the camera pans over the street sign of Saville Row, where the iconic Kingsman tailor’s shop is located. This same piece of music has been used for the same scene in all three films, albeit orchestrated differently, and its warm and noble tone here helps maintain the link between the generations. “Oxfords, Not Rogues” is a longer exploration of the Oxford family theme, rendered with tender strings and melodic woodwind accents, affirming the father-son bond between Oxford and his now grown son Conrad, their noble ties to the British aristocracy, and what it means to be a gentleman in that society. The phrasing of the strings in the cue’s finale is unexpectedly emotionally stirring, and offers one of the score’s moving highlights.

“My Shepherd” is the introduction of the theme for the shadowy figure manipulating the events across Europe from the sidelines, and is a bank of sinister string chords and brass textures accompanied by tinkling balalaikas, dulcimers, and various other central-European instruments, as well as a soft choir. There is an undulating secondary motif that moves through the cue too, which allows for brief stingers to be connected with the character without the need for playing the full theme; the overall effect is at times quite chilling, and ensures that the characters nefarious plans are given the full ‘evil mastermind’ treatment. The balalaika textures relate directly to Rasputin, one of the Shepherd’s agents of evil, and the whole thing ends with a wonderfully wicked comic book march of grandiose proportions.

The subsequent “We Three Kings” underscores the montage sequence which describes the relationship between King George, Kaiser Wilhelm, and Tsar Nicholas, and sets up the underlying rivalry between them that leads to World War I; elements of the Shepherd theme drive this cue too, although they are counterbalanced by the Kings Man theme in melodic response, There is a persistent inevitability to the rhythmic core of the cue – Europe is on the brink of war, and nothing is going to stop it – and this concept is explored further in “Cost of War,” which arranges the Kings Man theme for funereal strings, snare drum tattoos, and an angelic choir. The cue is a darkly dramatic commentary on the millions of lives lost during the conflict that – according to this film – the Shepherd provokes. The second half of the cue is an impressively large-scale action sequence, which again takes elements from the main Kings Man theme, the Shepherd theme, and Rasputin’s theme, and blends them into some urgent and powerful orchestral writing.

The “Network of Domestics” is another extended exploration of the Kings Man theme, soft and understated, but also determined and intelligent, which cleverly depicts the nature of Oxford and Polly’s global spy network: it is made up of servants and maids, waiters and butlers, usually women like Polly and black men like Shola who move undetected in the halls of power, seeing and hearing everything that the privileged white men they serve do without ever really being noticed – in other words, perfect spies.

Oxford, Conrad, and his comrades travel to Imperial Russia, ostensibly to attend a relative’s birthday party, but with an actual plan to assassinate Rasputin, so that Tsar Nicholas can be freed of his influence. They confront him in “Let Me Lick Your Wounds,” which contains the first really extended statement of Rasputin’s theme, and involves a rather disgusting encounter between Oxford, Rasputin, a Bakewell tart, and Rhys Ifans giving Ralph Fiennes’s leg a tongue bath. Margeson and Lewis wrote an obviously Russian-influenced tune for Rasputin – there are references to traditional Russian dances, and they use traditional instruments like the balalaika – but there is also an unmistakable religious overtone to his music too, with choirs and tolling bells illustrating his status as a monk, a priest, and a mystic, with an almost messianic power over the Tsar and his family. This leads into the showstopping “Dance on Your Graves,” which underscores the fight between Oxford, Conrad, Shola, and Rasputin, and is an outrageous collision between the Kings Man theme, Rasputin’s theme, and Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. The cue includes some astonishingly flamboyant string writing and explosions of balalaika madness, and is probably the best use of existing classical music in an action film since Geoff Zanelli put Rossini’s William Tell Overture into the finale of The Lone Ranger in 2013.

“Cracking the Code” is a terrific staccato variation on the Kings Man theme featuring prominent pianos, busy strings, and nervous ticking percussion, underscoring the scene where the resourceful Polly uses her network to discover Hanussen’s plans to bring the United States into the global war by blackmailing President Woodrow Wilson with unflattering photographs of him being seduced by Mata Hari.

Meanwhile, Conrad has finally come of age, and has enlisted in the British Army, despite his father’s protestations. He joins the Grenadier Guards and is posted to the front line trenches in northern France. “We Shall Not Sleep” is the first cue that addresses this, and features both the Oxford and Kings Man themes, determined, forthright, noble. The choral textures and solo horns give the trench scenes a dark, haunting sound, juxtaposing visual horror with musical beauty. The end of the cue is a vivid, intense, thrusting action sequence, which leads directly into the “Silent Knife” sequence wherein Conrad and some of his fellow soldiers lead an assault into no-mans-land in the dead of night to rescue a stranded comrade. The music here is stark and dissonant, full of sour string tremolos, eerie brass clusters, and metallic percussion effects which capture the danger of the situation and terror felt by the men in action. “Crying Conrad” is a stark piano-led version of the Oxford theme as Conrad, the only survivor of the assault, is stranded in no-mans-land, but receives encouragement and comfort from the man he was sent to save. The subsequent “Lionheart” is an outpouring of heroism and courage as Conrad successfully braves a barrage of enemy fire and sprints through no-mans-land while carrying his wounded comrade back to his own trench. The statements of the Oxford theme and the Kings Man theme here are rousing, patriotic, and glorious, especially when the choir joins in – but it all ends with a shocking twist as Conrad is mistaken for a German spy and shot by one of his own men.

“Dulce et Decorum Est” underscores Conrad’s funeral, as his father gives a bitter eulogy and delivers a powerful treatise on the horrors of war by reading Wilfred Owen’s famous poem, which mocks the oft-repeated platitude of ‘how sweet and honorable it is to die for one’s country. Both the Oxford theme and the Kings Man theme flow through the piece, wracked with the weight of emotion and marked with poignant strings, while a soft chorus intones in the background.

Spurred into action as a result of his son’s sacrifice, Oxford, Shola, and Polly launch an assault on the Shepherd’s compound at the top of an isolated mountain, seeking to put a stop to his reign of terror. This final sequence – from “Skydiving” through to “Victoria Cross” – is essentially one long 12-minute action set piece, which features several of the score’s main themes in terrific action settings. “Skydiving” presents a heroic version of the Kings Man theme as Oxford parachutes out of a biplane on to the top of the mountain; it’s bold and exciting, and is full of lavish string writing, gallant explosions of brass led heroism, and choral majesty, albeit with a more anguished and dissonant middle section to underscore the scene where Oxford temporarily gets caught in the rigging of his plane and has to cut himself free.

“Goliath” is a terrific action cue, which accompanies the two-location fight as Oxford battles with the Shepherd’s gargantuan elevator guard at the top of the mountain, while Shola and Polly take out the rest of his minions below. The cue includes massive statements of both the Kings Man theme and the Shepherd theme, and there are several moments of grandiose ‘superhero’ boldness, including one for the scene where Shola leaps into battle with the unflinching bravery of a Zulu warrior, and one for the scene where Polly proves that she can fire a sniper rifle as well as she can make a cup of tea. “Out of the Shadows” is where the Shepherd’s identity is finally revealed, to the sinister tones of the Shepherd theme, a mass of menacing tremolo strings and oppressive choral moans.

“Crooked Blade” is the first part of the Shepherd vs Oxford fight, where both their themes face off mano-a-mano amid an array of vivid string figures and thrashing, energetic percussion. The subsequent “Victoria Cross” is the finale of the Shepherd vs Oxford fight, in which the action has shifted from inside the Shepherd’s hut, to outside on the edge of a precipitous cliff. The enormous high stakes of the scene are conveyed with huge orchestral forces backed with choir, plus references to both the Kings Man theme and the Shepherd theme – until eventually the Oxford family theme dominates, illustrating how Lord Oxford channels the bravery of Conrad, and the memory of his death, to finally gain the upper hand.

“Knights of the Roundtable” is the score’s coda, giving musical voice to the formal establishment of the Kingsman organization, with Oxford at the helm, and Polly, Shola, King George V, Archie Reid, and US Ambassador Chester King – a cameo from Stanley Tucci – adopting Arthurian codenames, and resolving to be a force for good in the world. The Kings Man theme is performed with stirring passion and heroism one last time, until finally the overall main theme of the franchise comes back in a big fanfare statement, acknowledging the creation of the company that Harry and Eggsy would eventually lead, almost 100 years later. However, there is one last twist in the tail, and it comes via “The New Flock,” which gives the score dark finale wherein the survivors of the Shepherd’s organization come together in secret and meet with the young man who they want to continue the work and help start a second world war – an Austrian art student named Adolf Hitler.

The King’s Man is an absolutely first rate film score; as I mentioned earlier, it’s by far the best score in the Kingsman series to date, it’s my favorite score by both Matthew Margeson and Dominic Lewis in either of their careers so far, and discounting the various Marvel super heroes, is one of the best action-adventure scores of 2021. The new themes that Margeson and Lewis wrote for the film are strong and memorable, and the way they arrange the themes to illustrate a wide range of emotions is impressive. The action music is tremendously enjoyable, and the interpolation of the 1812 Overture into the Rasputin dance fight sequence is audacious and a ton of fun. Overall, The King’s Man is an unexpected, top-drawer surprise for the end of the year. The film’s famous saying states that ‘manners maketh man,’ but in this film the music has a lot to do with it too.

Buy the King’s Man soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • The King’s Man (4:17)
  • The Promise (3:36)
  • Savile Row (1:50)
  • Oxfords, Not Rogues (3:32)
  • My Shepherd (4:34)
  • We Three Kings (3:07)
  • Cost of War (3:27)
  • The Lord’s Vessel (2:21)
  • Network of Domestics (4:29)
  • Let Me Lick Your Wounds (3:24)
  • Dance on Your Graves (4:11)
  • Cracking the Code (3:07)
  • We Shall Not Sleep (3:40)
  • Silent Knife (4:27)
  • Crying Conrad (2:20)
  • Lionheart (1:56)
  • Dulce et Decorum Est (4:58)
  • Skydiving (2:46)
  • Goliath (2:44)
  • Out of the Shadows (1:57)
  • Crooked Blade (2:15)
  • Victoria Cross (3:10)
  • Knights of the Roundtable (3:50)
  • The New Flock (2:27)

Running Time: 78 minutes 11 seconds

Hollywood Records (2021)

Music composed by Matthew Margeson and Dominic Lewis . Conducted by Ben Foster. Orchestrations by Stephen Coleman, David Deutsch, Andrew Kinney, Tommy Laurence, Jeff Lawson and Michael J. Lloyd. Recorded and mixed by Nick Wollage and Chris Fogel. Edited by Jack Dolman, Gerard McCann and Cecile Tournesac. Album produced by Matthew Margeson and Dominic Lewis .

  1. Morgan Joylighter
    January 4, 2022 at 9:12 am

    Oh wow, I had zero expectations for this and now I’m excited!

  2. Marco Ludema
    January 4, 2022 at 11:08 am

    Out of curiousity, what did you think of the score for Kingsman: The Golden Circle, compared to the other two?

    I haven’t tried this one out yet, probably will once I’ve watched the movie.

    • January 4, 2022 at 11:13 am

      Honestly, I have not listened to it recently. I remember it being fine – about on a par with the first one – and the western and cowboy elements were fun. This score is by far the best of the three, though.

  3. January 4, 2022 at 11:23 am

    What a fabulous score, with some really great and memorable themes, a very successful collaboration.

  1. January 21, 2022 at 9:00 am

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