BUENOS AIRES — Bringing onto the market what looks like by far the biggest new movie at Ventana Sur, Latido Films has acquired international sales rights to Agustí Villaronga’s “Born a King,” starring Ed Skrein, fresh off his star-turn in “Midway.”
Latido Films’ director Antonio Saura and Juan Torres, intl. sales head, will introduce “Born a King” – also starring Hermione Cornfield (“Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation”) and marking a return to production after an eight-year hiatus of Andrés Vicente Gómez – to select buyers at Ventana Sur, the Cannes-Incaa Latin American market which kicks off Monday in Buenos Aires.
A U.K.-Spanish co-production between London’s Celtic Films, and Spain’s Arena Audiovisual that yokes the craft of both countries’ top tech pool, “Born a King” is budgeted at a declared €19 million ($21 million).
That shows in the heavy VFX work recreating a bustling yet gray 1919 London and a spectacular battle scene at the film’s get-go, capturing Arabian warriors who, at the beginning of last century still rode into battle on horseback and fought with curved swords (plus British rifles), the red blood of battle offsetting swirling of desert yellow sand.
Surprising viewers at April’s Barcelona Festival and directed with a warm heart by Spain’s Agustí Villaronga, who showed a knack in another period piece, 2011’s Goya winning “Black Bread,” to never forget the central human stories at the heart of ambitious historical reconstruction, “Born a King” marks the first big international feature to shoot in the Kingdom, Celtic’s Sutherland said. It received the vital support of the ruling Al Faisal family, especially Prince Saud Bin Turki Al Faisal, the young nephew of the ruling monarch, and got horses and camels from the Saudi army for battle scenes.
Going into production when there were no cinema theaters in Saudi Arabia, it has caught an exhibition revolution, notching up $4.2 million in its totality in the Middle East, 60% in the Kingdom pf Saudi Arabia’s first theaters opened, and $2 million in the United Arabian Emirates.
That is quite a feat given that Saudi Arabia still only has theaters in cantal Riyadh, Jeddah and Khobar, representing some 25% of the total 34 million population in Saudi Arabia, Gómez told Variety.
Set at the dawn of the unification of Arabia, as the film initial voiceover explains, the true events-based historical drama follows the coming of age of Prince Faisal of Saudi Arabia, against the background of a diplomatic mission he led to London in 1919 at the tender age of 13 to plead for non-intervention in Arabia or even the British government’s support for his father’s ambitions to open up Mecca to all Arabs.
The dice are loaded, however, against young Faisal.
After WW1, the Allies carved up the Middle East seeking to keep Arabia divided, and appeared if anything to support Sharif Hussein, Faisal’s father’s rival but backed but idolized by T.E, Lawrence, whose lands moreover may have important oil deposits, as the British navy switches from coal to oil.
“All I want to do is fight beside my father and make him proud like you do,” he tells elder brother Turki, at the beginning of the film.
But his father, Abdulaziz Bin Saud, the Emir of Najd, is a kind but daunting man of action, in an early battle scene against invading Rashidi troops, standing sword-in-hand alone facing dozen of charging cavalry, slaughtering eight enemies, some on horseback.
Faisal meets with a frosty reception from the British Foreign Office, spends much of the film attempting to engineer a meeting with King George V and Lord Curzon, Britain’s all-powerful Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.
“Born a King” was an “artistic and life journey and adventure” for director Villaronga, his reaction to Arabis and indeed Britain, two cultures he didn’t know well, he says, causing him to shoot the scenes in Arabia with much greater tonal warmth than grey, sober 1919 London.
Lensed in Steadycam to give “a sense of discovery, of a child penetrating fascinated into a new world,” he added, Villaronga’s most major effort, he explained, was “to give the film soul, never relinquish the point of view of a boy who is emotionally more defenseless and without having sharpened as yet his weapons of diplomacy.”
“‘Born a King’ is structured more like an adventure film than a thriller, with the latent tension of the question of whether the protagonist will achieve his objectives, which is an emotional tension, one of sentiments,” Villaronga concluded.
“I’m very happy to give the world sales rights on the film to Latido, a Spanish company that defends good cinema and, headed by Antonio Saura, will grow in the future into one of the independent cinema specialists of greatest international reach,” said Gómez.
“This is Latido’s first collaboration with Agustí Villaronga – one of the most admired film directors in Spain, a creative, inventive talent that knows like very few how to portray the complexity of the human mind – and with Andrés Vicente Gómez, one of Spain’s legendary film producers,” said Saura.
He added that he “proud” Goméz had entrusted him to represent Spain’s most ambitious production of the year.
“For me, particularly, it is also personal [pride], since I worked with Andrés Vicente Gomez in his production and sales company Lola Films for several years,” said Saura.
He went on: “It’s a great privilege for him to entrust his former protege with this important film, which I see as proof that he sees us somehow as heirs to the great company that he created and which represented the best Spanish films of the last decades.”