When learning of the British Empire Blogathon graciously hosted by Phantom Empires and The Stalking Moon I immediately thought of Royal Flash for a variety of reasons. First off is the fact that it pokes fun at the stiff upper lip British type that puts on a “jolly good show” for God and Queen. Secondly, I have always taken great pleasure from Malcolm McDowell’s hell raising yet cowardly performance in the title role. Now throw in a rather brutish Oliver Reed reteaming with his nude wrestling pal Alan Bates and we have an underrated gem from the seventies that is begging to be rediscovered for both it’s comedy and adventurous spirit.
Novelist George MacDonald Fraser adapted the second novel in his Flashman series and along with spirited director Richard Lester have given us this chapter in the life of Captain Harry Flashman. A military hero by default for his acts during the Empires campaign in Afghanistan, McDowell as our leading man finds himself a well known name throughout England and high society. Greatly respected he is called upon to present a rather Patton(esque) speech to a group of young men heading out into the world. Join me in standing up for a round of applause as McDowell delivers the goods in the film’s opening scene.
Now it’s time to get in a little gambling and whoring. You see Flashman is no gentleman at all. He’s a cad. A bully. A backstabber. A thief. Most of all a coward. And so on.
While fleeing a police raid led by Bob Hoskins, McDowell runs squarely into the broad shoulders of Oliver Reed who plays our main adversary Otto Von Bismarck. Using a little bit of street smarts, he embarrasses Reed and takes off with his lady Florinda Balkan. It’s going to be a love/hate relationship that sees the two tangle repeatedly from the start to finish.
He’s a womanizer and she’s a social climbing nymphomaniac. They’ll make a fine pair.
When their love affair falls apart and Reed leaves England for Germany the narrative moves ahead four years. It seems Balkan has reached out to Malcolm from Bavaria. With the promise of money he’s off to the continent.
This is where our film takes a turn towards espionage and a dash of the Prince of Zenda. Reed is behind the reason for McDowell’s being brought to Bavaria. He’s hungry for power and politics. McDowell is a dead ringer for a Crown Prince that is indisposed. Reed’s plans include scarring McDowell’s face and marrying him off to Queen Britt Ekland. The latter half doesn’t sound to bad. After all gentlemen let’s not forget that just two years prior to this she was the Goddess of Love in The Wickerman.
Alan Bates is Reed’s right hand who is always one step behind McDowell to keep him in line. That doesn’t stop Malcolm from letting loose with crude comments at any given time and continually pushing Reed’s anger to the limit.
Just when Malcolm thinks life isn’t too bad he realizes that the real Prince won’t be coming back and Reed has no further use for him either.
Cowardice will only take him so far and when Bates implores him to “Come down and fight like a man.” McDowell cries out “Don’t be ridiculous.”
Much like Richard Lester’s Musketeer films, this effort has it’s tongue firmly planted in it’s cheek. From it’s opening scene to it’s closing McDowell is hardly ever off the screen. He delivers an energetic performance that is both comedic and raunchy. He gets to play Errol Flynn in a lengthy duel with Bates despite doing his best to flee the situation. Once again he’ll find himself a hero by circumstance.
Reed is best at being Reed. Brutish and imposing. Not a man to tangle with. Alan Bates shines here and develops a cautious friendship with McDowell despite their often being at odds. Florinda Balkan as the woman who comes and goes in McDowell’s life plays it deliciously with a hint of nastiness that only a wooden brush against the buttocks can define.
The cast is sprinkled with a who’s who of British cinema. Along with a pre-stardom Bob Hoskins we have Alistair Sim, Lionel Jeffries and Joss Ackland dropping in for added flavor.
The location filming adds an immense beauty to the backdrop for McDowell’s adventures including the Castle Linderhof in Bavaria. A place I know well from jigsaw puzzles my Mother worked on over the years.
Looking back it’s unfortunate that there wasn’t a follow up to the Flashman adventures as it’s clearly a role that suits McDowell’s cheeky take on the character.
So if you’re looking for a different view on the British Empire, look no further than the wild adventures of Malcolm McDowell in the only film version from the series of Flashman novels.
I love Lester’s detached irony and his collaboration with Fraser and great fun though it’s easy to see why this did less well commercially than the MUSKETEER films – a film definitely worth reclaiming! Thanks, great review.
Thanks. I always refer to Lester’s Musketeers films as the best take on the novel. The subject material for this is well suited to his style and to have Malcolm, Oliver and Alan makes it all the better.
Mike, you have introduced me to so many new movies, and here’s another one I haven’t heard of. It sounds like a hoot! Thanks in advance for recommending it. 🙂
Mission accomplished, I am quite sure you will agree that this one needs to find a new audience. As always, thanks for stopping by.
Though it’s a tad postmodern and satirical for my tastes, there is a lot to enjoy in this one. The mensur scene is very nice. Thanks for the cool pick and very nice addition to our blogathon!
Great idea to celebrate the theme and allow me to check this one out after far too long. Thanks.
Haven’t seen this but you know I love Reed and McDowell so it will get on my screen sooner or later. Florinda Bolkan had quite a run in those years. Great pick to add to the blogathon.
I wasn’t really familiar with Bolkan but she’s fun here. Once again we agree. Reed and McDowell get thumbs up.
It’s just that I saw her in The Master Touch with Kirk,and her name pops up a lot in those years as being in a bunch of giallo and eurocrime pics.
I love the Flashman books, but strangely enough, I have never seen the movie. Thanks for the great review and reminding me to finally go and watch it.
That is ironic. I have read the first book. The movie gives it a quick 5 minute narrative to bring us up to his current adventure in a flashback to bring the viewer up to speed. If u see it let me know what u think and if Malcolm fits the bill.
First impressions suggest there are a LOT of moustaches in this film 😉 I love the way this pokes fun at the British stereotype whilst reinforcing it at the same time. Now I understand why the world has such a view of Britain, even though it couldn’t be further from the truth!
For me it’s easy to love this one because I am a fan of McDowell and Reed. There styles are very different but both are used to great effect here.
Usually Richard Lester’s particular brand of droll, ironic period piece is just my cup of tea (love his Musketeer films, which of course Fraser’s scripted), but this one left me a bit cold, frankly. It looks great, and has many fine set-pieces, but I find McDowell’s take on Flashman cold, reptilian and far less likable than the one found in Fraser’s novels.
That said, I ‘m very glad to see you cover this film for the blogathon. It’s such a perfect, if little-discussed, choice. Great review, thanks so much for taking part in the ‘thon!
Many times it’s the novel image vs. the screen image. I have only read the first novel after falling for this film. Strikes my funny bone on the right direction I guess. Something just too funny seeing McDowell taunt the brutish Reed while standing behind English aristocracy.
Thanks for checking in.