If I Were King (1938)

If I Were King (1938)

“If it’s so easy to be king, how would you begin?”

When medieval poet Francois Villon (Ronald Colman) kills a traitor (John Miljan) in the court of King Louis XI (Basil Rathbone), he’s made Constable for a week, during which time he falls in love with a beautiful lady-in-waiting (Frances Dee), hatches a plan against invading forces from Burgundy, and attempts to bring food and justice to the starving people of France.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Basil Rathbone Films
  • Frances Dee Films
  • Play Adaptations
  • Ronald Colman Films
  • Royalty and Nobility
  • Thieves and Criminals

Following his successful lead roles in A Tale of Two Cities (1935) and Lost Horizon (1937), Ronald Colman starred in this oft-adapted tale — based on a 1901 play and novel by Justin Huntly McCarthy — about real-life poet-of-the-people Francois Villon. The film, scripted by Preston Sturges, presents Villon as a sort of French Robin Hood, stealing from the rich to feed the poor — a gesture it’s hard to quibble with, today no less than then. Rathbone — wearing plenty of make-up — seems to be having fun playing King Louis XI as a monarch more wacky than sadistic, willing to use his power for creative experimentation. The sets and cinematography are fine, and this was surely an enjoyable outing for audiences of the day, living through the tail end of the Great Depression; however, it’s no longer must-see viewing for all film fanatics.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Ronald Colman as Francois Villon
  • Basil Rathbone as King Louis XI
  • Fine cinematography and period sets

Must See?
No, though Colman fans will want to seek it out.


One thought on “If I Were King (1938)

  1. Agreed; not-must see… though it’s pleasant-enough for what it is, and it’s nice seeing Rathbone taking on a ‘lighter’ role for a change.

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