First, a disclaimer:
I agreed to take this film on for my masters at Vulture Hound, because I believed that I was receiving something entirely farcical. I based this assumption entirely on the cover, which is dreadful an inappropriate. I expected that I would be able to use words like “swash” and “buckle”, possibly in conjunction, and believed that “buccaneer” and “swaggering” might not be out of the question. I had vague hopes that I could make a series of weak jokettes on the subject of pirates and perhaps be able to laugh at some wigs. I also believed that Matt Berry was in this film and the promise of him and Charles Dance together was, I forlornly hoped, a treat for the ears. I was wrong. In every regard. This is not a silly film; unusually for a film I watch for Vulture Hound, it isn’t even a bad film. In fact, it’s a good one. Even though Matt Berry is not in it.
It turns out that Admiral is in fact a historical drama set in The Netherlands of the 17th century. It is a time of tremendous upheaval with the Dutch parliament split down the middle between the Monarchist Orangists and the Republicans. Against this backdrop, the crowned heads of Europe are playing a high stakes game of Risk with the future of each nation depending on the strength of a nation’s navy and the cunning of the man who commands it. One such man is Rutger Hauer but then he dies before the opening credits and anoints his successor – Michiel de Ruyter, played by Frank Lammers (and definitely not Matt Berry) to take his place. This he duly does and the film follows him as he transforms the Dutch navy and learns to take centre stage in Dutch politics.
Lammers is extraordinary. I had never heard of him before and IMDB does not carry his image. This is perhaps because he, certainly in this film, resembles a potato with a scrotum for a face, if that scrotum then had a face that looked like a potato. With a moustache. It is a bizarre face, set atop a body that could reasonably be described as “comfortable”, but it is apparently quite a wonderful one. He gives such a beautifully understated performance that it becomes quite easy to forget you are watching a subtitled film – eyebrow business and grunting, translating globally.
The film itself covers such a broad sweep of history and such complex political events that it can entirely be forgiven for giving certain things a bit of a sweeping overview. The English, for example, very much the antagonists in this drama, are all wearing many, many frills, wigs and shagging relentlessly. This is in between asking for tea and being supercilious. It may not surprise you to learn that it is in this capacity that we are introduced to Charles Dance as King Charles II or Tywin Lannister in a wig. And of course he’s brilliant at it.
In fact, I only had two criticisms of the entire film. Firstly, I found it a little long. The second act could stand to lose about twenty minutes to half an hour and no one would miss it. Secondly, there are a number of sequences, all rather naval in nature, which rely on some computer imaging. Now the reason for this is obvious, presumably the filmmakers thought it a bit of a stretch to build two entire seventeenth century fleets, that’s fine, I understand that. Unfortunately, the images as they are resemble TV adverts for mobile phone games where an unfeasibly attractive woman made out of cleavage begs you to “build your army and conquer the world”. It jarred me and it is a shame as this is a good film that is worth your time. Not all of it of course, I really mean it about those twenty minutes.
A solid four of five. It gained an extra point for being my first Dutch film.
Dir: Roel Reine
Scr: Lars Boom, Alex Van Galen
Starring: Frank Lummers, Barry Atsma, Charles Dance, Rutger Hauer
Prd: Klaas de Jong
Music: Trevor Morris
DOP: Roel Reine
Run time: 151 mins
Admiral is available now on DVD via Signature Entertainment.