To Kill a King (2003) 




Director:     Mike Barker.

Starring:     Tim Roth (Oliver Cromwell), Dougray Scott (Sir Thomas Fairfax), Olivia Williams (Lady Anne Fairfax),  James Bolam (Denzil Holles),  Corin Redgrave (Lord de Vere),  Finbar Lynch (Cousin Henry),  Julian Rhind-Tutt (James),  Adrian Scarborough (Sergeant Joyce),  Jeremy Swift (Earl of Whitby),  Rupert Everett (King Charles I),  Steven Webb (Boy at Naseby),  Jake Nightingale (Colonel Pride),  Leonard Woodcock (Young Royalist prisoner),  Thomas Arnold (Messenger at Naseby),  Sam Spruell (King's guard).  

Cromwell and Fairfax confront each other over their struggle against King Charles I of England. 


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.. 

In England General Fairfax says that he never thought he would be leading an army against his own countrymen.  After three years of civil war his side won.  The King was imprisoned but the people paid dearly.  The path to reform proved longer and darker than he ever could have imagined.

England 1645.  On a battlefield a soldier finds a man still alive among the stacked bodies of the dead.  The fellow has a terrible leg wound. 

A soldier tries to kill Cromwell, but is stopped by General Fairfax.  Then Fairfax stops Cromwell from killing the would-be assassin. 

Mrs. Fairfax, Lady Anne, comes to visit her husband.  They hug and kiss.  She visits a bit with Cromwell, who tells her that he looks after the General who he feels is one of God's beloved.  Cromwell leaves. 

The Parliamentary forces troop into town.  Charles I looks out from his window  to see Fairfax and his wife hug and kiss.  A guard tells him to move away from the window. 

Denzil Holles, who has become a leading force in the Parliament, presents Fairfax with some kind of medal.   Fairfax asks Holles when his soldiers will be paid.  Holles answers that it will be as soon as they can pay them.  Cromwell is to sign a treaty, but as he looks it over he is very unhappy with it.  He says to Holles:  "This is not the treaty."  Holles has left too much out of the document.  Holles answers Cromwell by telling him to amend it.  Cromwell works hard on the amendments he wants to make.   

Fairfax and Lady Anne go home.  Her father is there and he is a blue blood very critical of the Parliamentarians. 

The peace terms are shown to Charles I.  Charles accuses Fairfax of being a traitor.  He then asks the General to let Lady Anne visit him. 

Fairfax and Lady Anne eat at Cromwell's house.  There they meet Cromwell's daughter Bridgette, cousin Henry and Mrs. Cromwell.  Anne tells the wife of Cromwell:  "Our husbands are so like brothers, I feel we are sisters already." 

Charles I meets with Holles.  He seeks to deal with Holles by offering him command of his troops.  That would mean that Holles would have power second only to the king himself. 

At dinner, Lady Anne and Fairfax meet Cromwell's young son Richard.  For his son's benefit, Cromwell glowingly praises Fairfax as the man who won the victory for the Parliamentarians.  At the table, Anne becomes ill and has to leave the table.  She walks outside.  When Fairfax talks with her she explains that she thinks she is expecting a child.  Fairfax is very happy, but Cromwell seems unhappy at the news. 

Meanwhile Holles's men grab the king's treasures to provide funds for support of the king's army. 

Back at home and in the following morning, Fairfax tells his wife that the king has asked to see her.  She replies:  "Then he must be obeyed." 

In Parliament Holles is trying to push through a deal to return Charles I to the throne.  He seems to have the support of the mass of the Parliamentary members.  But Cromwell cannot believe his ears.  He becomes furious and shouts:  "We will not vote on this!"  He then asks Holles:  "What are you plotting Holles?"  In spite of Cromwell's accusation of treachery, the motion carries.  (Meanwhile, Anne visits with Charles I.)  Cromwell tells Fairfax:  "I'll kill Holles for this."  But Fairfax tells him that they must get proof first.

Lady Anne sings while Charles I plays the piano.  Cromwell suddenly marches into the room.  He says that he has some business with the king and virtually forces Lady Anne to leave.  He then starts berating the king.  But the king and Cromwell are on completely different pages.  Charles I still maintains: "I am the king by divine appointment."

Hearing about the ransacking of the king's treasures, Fairfax confronts Holles.  He says:  "Our victory has been sold, our troops betrayed."  Later Lady Anne speaks with her husband about the rude way Cromwell treated her when she was with Charles. 

Cromwell learns that the nation's treasures have been plundered and that Parliament has betrayed him.  Eighty-nine members of Parliament voted to destroy his victory.  Cromwell has Fairfax ask his men for one last march, one brief call to the nation to finish what they started.  The men agree to march.  The next morning the troops remove the king to a place of "safety".  But Fairfax, worried that Cromwell might fail, writes Holles about what is going to happen and telling him to get out of the country.  Parliament will be disbanded and the "conspirators" arrested.  Holles is astounded by the news.  He and his wife hurriedly pack for their get-away.  They leave.

Cromwell's soldiers start rounding up the "conspirators".  The troops treat the arrestees very roughly, like traitors would be treated.  The troops march into Parliament.  Fairfax enters and announces that for the safety of the kingdom the Parliament is disbanded. 

Lady Anne is with the king and they are having a good time.  When Anne mentions the future, the king warns her to take care; his court is in exile, not dead.  In fact, the king seems to be in a world of fantasy.  Parliamentary members at this time are being pushed toward jail.  Anne goes to Cromwell and firmly asks him if it is all finished now.  A disapproving Cromwell tells her that her husband was not meant to stay at home with her. 

Cromwell does not know that Holles has left for France.  His absence is noted on a tour of the prisoners when son Richard asks his father where is Holles.  Cromwell goes to point him out, but does not see him.  He goes into the large cell to check the faces to find Holles but the man is just not there.  Cromwell is not pleased. 

Fairfax tells his wife not to worry for the worst is over.  Lady Anne tells him that the king is not pleased with his new quarters.  Cromwell from a distance screams to Fairfax that Holles has escaped.  Then he goes to his troops and starts accusing one or more of them of warning Holles.  Fairfax tries to calm Cromwell by saying none of the soldiers would betray him.  A little later, Fairfax learns that the king is be be placed on trial.  Fairfax is angry and says to Cromwell that they have not discussed this matter.  His attitude makes cousin Henry think he is not on Cromwell's side.  He tells Cromwell:  "He seems reluctant to grab the sword which the Lord holds out to us."  Cromwell still defends his friend:  "Tom fights in the field.  These corridors are new to him."

Farifax visits the king who praises his wife as a splendid woman.  He adds:  "It would be a shame for you to lose her."  Fairfax disregards this and asks the king if he agrees on the terms offered to him.  The king arrogantly tells Fairfax that he is his divinely appointed king.  He then goes on to say that if Fairfax doesn't change his politics, his son will be a mister, not a lord.  He then tears up the terms of agreement saying:  "No man commands a king!"   Charles then tells Fairfax to get out. 

Fairfax tells his wife that the king will go to trial.  This is very upsetting to Anne.  Fairfax goes to speak with Cromwell.  Cromwell tells him that from the torture of the Parliamentarian prisoners he knows now that the king offered Holles the position of his Chief Royal Councilor in exchange for votes in his favor. (At home Mrs. Fairfax is in a great deal of pain.)  One of Fairfax's soldier comes to Cromwell holding the head of one of the prisoners.  Fairfax is shocked.  Cromwell merely says:  "This is reform."  Fairfax replies:  "We are not butchers!  The killing has to stop."  Cromwell says:  "When did it end?  I must have missed it."

Fairfax comes home to discover that his wife has had a miscarriage.  He tells his wife that he is so sorry.  Anne tells him:  "We weren't meant for this.  Our families have always defended the king.  You have a duty."  Fairfax tells Cromwell they lost their child and Cromwell genuinely tries to comfort him. 

At the Fairfax place Lady Anne receives two gentlemen: their neighbor James and the Earl of York.  The men ask her about the rumors of a trial of the king.  She confirms them.  They say that they will report all this to the prince in exile.  They then say that they want to visit Charles I.  Anne tells them that she is not at liberty to help them.  James asks if they are not even allowed to offer their condolences to her. 

Cromwell, speaking of the trial, tells Fairfax that he must not allow Anne to blame him for this.  They go out for a walk.  While walking, riders reach them to deliver the news that the king escaped.  They were able to catch him down by the river and they are still in pursuit of those who helped him.  An astounded Fairfax asks:  "From the safe house?  No one knows where it is."   But Cromwell has a strong suspicion that Anne might have told the location to one of the monarch's supporters.  He goes to talk with her and accuses her of this, but she protests that she has not left the house.   He speaks of her hatred for him.  She denies that she hates him.  Cromwell then says:  "I underestimated you.  I see there are two generals in this house."

Farifax arrives home and sees Cromwell's coach near the house.  He says hello to Cromwell as the leader passes him.  He is taken aback when Cromwell just keeps walking straight to his coach without saying a word.  Fairfax goes to his wife and asks her:  "What have you done?"  She breaks down and admits that she told the location of the king to her two visitors.  But she asks:  "What was I supposed to do?"  as if she had no other choice.  Her husband tells her:  "I grieve the child too."  He leaves. 

At the king's trial, Cromwell watches as another man accused of treason signs the death warrant for the king.  Fairfax and Lady Anne attend the trial.  During a break in the trial, Fairfax hears that he is the last name to be signed on the king's death warrant..  Fairfax yells that all this is a mockery of justice.  Cromwell listens but doesn't say anything.  Cousin Henry pulls everyone out of the room.  Alone Fairfax asks Cromwell:  "How long have you been plotting this Oliver?"  Oliver answers Tom:  ever since his traitor wife started informing on him to the king and his supporters.  He adds that Fairfax should be grateful.  After all, he did not put his wife's name on the warrant.  Fairfax then accuses Cromwell of punishing him for a wife that he (Cromwell) envies.  Cromwell tells him:  "This is it Tom. This is our victory!"  Tom protests that he will reform the king.  Cromwell just tells him that it is already too late. 

Charles comes before the court with his arrogant, haughty attitude still very much intact.  He is charged by the Parliament with the abuse of power.  The king then goes on the attack.  He asks by what possible authority they are bringing this charge against him.  He was appointed by God himself to be king and that's that.  Cromwell brings him up short by saying that the king is trying to turn the tables on them by insisting on interrogating the court itself.  Fairfax comes into the room.  He goes over to his wife to escort her out.  But Anne insists on walking before the king and curtsying to him.  Those assembled in the court room are shocked by her actions.  As she and her husband leave she tells him that she wants him to have a coup to overthrow Cromwell. 

All the judges stand up and say that the king is guilty.  Later Cromwell's supporters tell him that Fairfax is a traitor.  Cromwell listens and ponders the question.  He then tells his men:  "I shall be general now." 

Fairfax drops off his wife at her father's house.  He confers with some of the king's supporters there and speaks harshly to them about being off the mark in their opposition to Cromwell.  They had better shape up if they are to eliminate Cromwell.  Fairfax says:  "I'm the only one who can contain him." 

The people assemble to await the execution of the king.   As he walks on the raised platform to the place of execution people touch his boots.  The king's head is hacked off.  Cromwell holds up his own bloody hand to the crowd saying:  "Red blood like ours!"  Some onlookers leave in disgust. 

Fairfax comes to see Cromwell.  As he rides in he sees the dead bodies of "traitors" hanging from posts. 

Anne's father receives a note from James, who invites them all to his estate.  Her father wants her to go with him, but Anne says:  "I shall stay and wait here."  Dad refers to her husband as that "traitor". 

Cromwell learns that the Scots are on the side of the monarchy.  Cromwell says they will invade Scotland first, before Scotland can strike at them.   

Fairfax speaks with Cromwell, who tells him not to test him.  Fairfax replies:  "You're not God, Oliver!"  They exchange some more unpleasant barbs and Tom starts to leave.  Cromwell stops him and says:  "I thought you'd left me for sure."  They embrace. 

Late at night Anne comes in from her visit to James's place.  Fairfax says in a surprised voice:  "You came back."  They kiss several times. 

An angry Cromwell shoots a street peddler twice in the midst of a large crowd on the street.  Then a still shocked Fairfax finishes the man off with a third shot. 

Holles returns.  He shows up at the Fairfax place.  He says the prince sends his greetings.  Fairfax tells Holles that he told him to stay away.  Holles replies that he (Fairfax) was the only one who didn't sign the death warrant for Charles I.  They know that Fairfax is the only one who can tame Cromwell.  Fairfax only says:  "Get out!  Get out!"  Holles leaves. 

Cousin Henry tells Cromwell that Holles has been seen visiting in the city.  Cromwell asks Fairfax why he isn't wearing his republican uniform.  Fairfax implies that he will after the investiture.  Then Fairfax speaks with his close ally, Sergeant Joyce.  He asks Joyce for his help.  Fairfax ponders how strange it is that the task of killing Cromwell to prevent a dictatorship has fallen to him.  Cromwell says that the people must have a captain  --  a monarch of sorts.  But as far as Fairfax is concerned, the title of Lord Protector of England is no better than the title of dictator.  After the investiture, Cromwell's "court" kisses his hand.  He walks out into the plaza.  While raising Fairfax's arm to the applause of the crowd, he tells him:  "They've always loved you more." 

Sgt. Joyce creates a distraction, but it fails to distract.  Fairfax takes out his pistol but decides against killing Cromwell.  So Joyce takes aim and fires his weapon.  Fairfax saves Cromwell's life by pushing him to avoid the bullet.  Cromwell is grateful to Fairfax, but Fairfax tells him:  "I gave the order."  Cromwell can't believe what Tom is telling him.  When Fairfax insists, Cromwell says:  "Don't tell me something I can't hear, Tom."  Cromwell tells his men to have the would-be assassin burned before the public.  Fairfax insists that they have the wrong man.  Having little luck getting through to Cromwell, Fairfax becomes more insulting saying the Oliver is nothing but a king and a cruel one at that.  This makes Cromwell angry and he tells his men to have Fairfax burned.  Cousin Henry shakes his heads and says to his cousin:  "You'll regret it, cuz."  The General just walks away through an applauding crowd. 

Fairfax tells the audience that he retired from public life.  He had not seen Cromwell for several years when one night news came form London that Cromwell is dying.  He tells his wife and their little daughter that he has to go see Oliver.  Fairfax tells Cromwell that it was he who warned Holles.  He did it because he wanted his son to have at least one friend on the royalty side after the devastation over the continuation of the civil war.  Oliver grabs and holds his friend's hand.  He tells Fairfax:  "I was counting on you.  You let me down." 

Fairfax says that Cromwell died.  Two years later they got a new king:  King Charles II, the brother of King Charles I.  The new king had Oliver's body dug up and his skeleton displayed on the public gallows.  Fairfax summarizes by saying:  "He was a man I loved, but one who I failed." 

Fairfax and Holles both received royal pardons. 


Cromwell and the King are both presented as pretty much one-dimensional figures.  Only General Fairfax is treating as having multiple motivations. He is torn between his love for and devotion to Cromwell and his hatred of the dictatorship Cromwell is forging.  Tension is created and kept up as to whether Fairfax is going to get himself killed by not controlling his blue-blood wife and saying too many negative things to Cromwell.  Olivia Williams was very good as the too meddlesome Lady Anne Fairfax. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

Historical Background:


see "Cromwell" (1970)



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