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film review

Daniel Beirne portrays a young Mackenzie King in Matthew Rankin's bizarre, beautiful biopic The Twentieth Century.Voyelles Films

  • The Twentieth Century
  • Written and directed by Matthew Rankin
  • Starring Dan Beirne, Sean Cullen and Sarianne Cormier
  • Classification N/A; 90 minutes


4 out of 4 stars

At the turn of the century, the young William Lyon Mackenzie King battles his controlling mother, a crisis of nationalism and his own repressive urges to fornicate with footwear in a desperate bid to become prime minister of Canada. Matthew Rankin’s hilarious and unbridled debut is a national treasure, boasting incredible cinematic compositions and stylized set pieces, while delivering a magnificent burn of Canadian identity politics and manhood. The filmmaker’s flair for hysteria finds a comic soulmate in Dan Beirne, who sinks deep into the former prime minister’s shameful psychosis to become our put-upon once and future King.

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Torn between trying to fulfill the dreams of his demanding mother (played by Louis Negin, a mainstay of Guy Maddin films), who has a vision of her son leading the country as prime minister and marrying the stately daughter (Catherine St-Laurent) of the Canadian Governor-General, and his own latent desire to defy her to abscond to Quebec City to marry a kindly Quebecker nurse (Sarianne Cormier), the miserable King enters politics in Toronto at the turn of the century. The film is a sorely needed satire of Canadian identity, where punchlines such as, “You will do more than your duty and expect less than your right!” and “Mother needs her puffin cream!” rightly smart.

Rankin has a made a great film about Canada and an even greater one about the kinds of subjects somewhat contraband in our home and native land: unbridled romantic longing, living in fear of one’s own mother, a perverse desire to masturbate with a dirty work boot, political ambition and shame. An all-you-can-gorge Mandarin buffet’s worth of shame, the kind that bristles with ego and maudlin self-pity when sensitive young beta males sacrifice everything for a cause they’re not even sure they believe in. A killer ensemble featuring Sean Cullen rounds out this bizarrely beautiful biopic for a history lesson you’ll never forget.

The Twentieth Century opens Dec. 13 in Toronto, Dec. 20 in Montreal, and Jan. 11 in Winnipeg