Czech director Jiri Menzel has worked only sporadically since making a splash in the 1960s with lauded features such as CLOSELY WATCHED TRAINS. I SERVED THE KING OF ENGLAND is another welcome invitation to witness Menzel's singular vision, which is liberally sprinkled with homage to silent features, vaudeville, and slapstick. The film tells the story of Jan Dite, an ordinary Czech citizen who reflects on life after being released from jail. Much of the film is told in flashback, with Menzel transporting his audience back to Dite's younger days in Prague, both before and during World War II, where the young restaurant worker does whatever it takes to fulfil his dreams of becoming a millionaire. His reckless and frequently hilarious path to achieving his goal becomes the backbone of the movie, and Menzel deftly edits back and forth between the older and younger versions of Dite as his history is revealed.
The younger version of Dite is played to excellent effect by Ivan Barnev, who manages to make the character extremely compelling. Barnev and Menzel even conspire to find humour in Dite's darkest hours, such as his marriage to a Nazi (played by Julia Jentsch) and his job in a Czech breeding centre set up to produce Hitler youth. Food and sex become important parts of the storyline as Dite demonstrates his passion for both, and the rampant urges of his younger self are neatly tempered by Menzel's flash-forwards to the older version of the character (played by Oldrich Kaiser). Like CLOSELY WATCHED TRAINS, this feature is an adaptation of a novel by Czech writer Bohumil Hrabel, and it's another hugely entertaining and utterly peerless piece of work from an inspired director.