Beatrice Laura Morante Major Ferri Franco Nero Matilde Azzurra Fiume Garelli Count Phillippe Leroy King Carlo Delle Piane Queen Carla Calo Prince Umberto Marzio Honorato Badoglio Mario Prosperi Maj. Litta Andrea Scorzoni Maria Maria Monse Anna Angiola Baggi Tonio Simone Melis
A chance meeting between a little girl and the king of Italy, as the U.S. Army prepares to advance on Rome in 1943, kicks off “The King and Me.” This true story, a tiny footnote to Italian history, should find its natural outlet on domestic ground, though a few fests — particularly those oriented to kids — might be attracted to pic’s gentle humor and nostalgia and a quite watchable story.
Coming out of the Pupi and Antonio Avati production house DueA Film, pic’s tone vaguely recalls some of Pupi’s films like “Boys and Girls.” Well made but a little static, this third feature by Lucio Gaudino gracefully intercuts the upstairs-downstairs woes of kings and serving girls, widowed countesses and dashing officers. Holding the threads together is 13-year-old Matilde (Azzurra Fiume Garelli), who is spending the summer of 1943 with mother Beatrice (Laura Morante) visiting her grandfather the Count (Philippe Leroy) at his country manor. Her father has been lost at sea, but she still prays for his return.
The household is preparing for the marriage of young maid Maria (Maria Monse) , many months pregnant, to Tonio (Simone Melis.) The wedding has to be postponed when the Count receives an unexpected visit. The king and queen of Italy and the remains of Pietro Badoglio’s government are ignominiously fleeing Rome, leaving the city to fight the Germans on its own. For safety, the servants are locked in the attic, leaving Matilde and her mother to wait on their VIP guests.
Among the arrivals is Beatrice’s lost love, the romantic Maj. Ferri (Franco Nero), who might be Matilde’s real father. But their rekindled flame torments the girl.
The most interesting part of the film is the dramatic flight of the royals, who are trying to reach an airfield and fly to safety, leaving their people to make do. Despite the retinue’s lack of heroism, Gaudino paints this gloomy bunch of losers, the last Italian monarchy, in semi-tragic colors.
Unfortunately, none of the historical characters has enough of a role to emerge from the group, and without a good grasp of history, most viewers won’t pick out Badoglio (who replaced Mussolini as head of the government in July 1943 ) and his cabinet. The King (Carlo Delle Piane) is easy to spot; he has two overwritten scenes in which he reveals his human side to Matilde in nostalgic speeches. The attractive pair Morante and Nero are little more than “grown-ups” seen through the little girl’s serious, all-seeing eyes.
Cinematographer Cesare Bastelli’s black-and-white lensing is so natural it’s practically invisible, like the rest of the good tech work.