I just saw director/writer Matthew Rankin’s satirical bildungsroman about Mackenzie King, entitled The Twentieth Century. The film is based on two premises, the first indisputable, the second debatable. The indisputable premise, anchored in King’s diaries – a gift that truly keeps on giving – is that King was one weird dude. The debatable premise is that all politicians are self-seeking, manipulative, liars. It’s not that politicians aren’t occasionally economical with the truth, but that sometimes they act out of a well-articulated vision of what is best for the country.
In The Twentieth Century, the premises are intertwined in a reality-television style competition, held in 1899, to determine who will be Canada’s prime minister for the twentieth century. Some parts of the competition include ribbon cutting, queue jumping, baby seal clubbing, and urinary penmanship (preserved in ice). Spoiler alert: despite some determined competition, King wins. By the way, King’s credo in matters both personal and political is “just like a winter’s day in spring, believe me.”
The main riff on the story material in King’s diaries is the hypothesis that his favorite masturbatory inspiration is odiferous leather boots (the thumbnail I chose for this post).
All of this is gonzo, wacky, and weird, and best viewed as a midnight madness feature. Whether it will become a cult classic of that genre remains to be seen.
What the movie lacks is any consideration of King’s exceptional but controversial political career. King was a genius at what the British scientist, novelist, and politician C.P Snow called “inside politics.” The extent to which his political mastery built the Canada of the twentieth century is still a source of controversy. If this question interests you, I strongly recommend Donald Brittain’s 1988 three-part docudrama biopic The King Chronicle (available in its entirety on the National Film Board of Canada website). While not ignoring the eccentricity on ample display in the diaries, Brittain thoughtfully tackles the political story as well.
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