Jiri Menzel emerges as the director of 'I served the King of England'

Director of TV Nova Petr Dvorak and Jiri Menzel, photo: CTK

After a bitter struggle for rights, lasting over a decade, one of Bohumil Hrabal's best loved novels 'I served the King of England' is to be turned into a film. The palaver surrounding the rights put the project on hold for more than ten years, and embroiled the famous Czech directors Karel Kachyna, Jan Sverak and Jan Hrebejk. Jiri Menzel, who won an Oscar for his dramatization of the Hrabal novel 'Closely Observed Trains', has finally been selected to direct the film. Rosie Johnston has more on the story:

Director of TV Nova Petr Dvorak and Jiri Menzel,  photo: CTK
Oscar winning Jiri Menzel was a friend of the late Hrabal, and collaborated with him on several occasions, turning his books into films. He was originally chosen to direct 'I served the King of England' over ten years ago, but there was some confusion with the rights. They were sold more than once and so several names were working on the project. At the 1998 Karlovy Vary film festival, an incensed Menzel took his stick to the film's then producer, Jiri Sirotek, when he found out that other people were planning to direct the film. With the confusion over, and Menzel's role as director settled, he unveiled his plans for the film at a press conference on Monday:

"I like old films, and it is going to be rather more like an old-fashioned black and white German film than one of these modern action thrillers."

Hrabal ranks among the most highly rated Czech authors of modern times. By the time he died in 1997, he had written nearly 50 books. Of all of his novels, 'I served the King of England' is the most popular. Its main character, Ditie, is a waiter who is instructed to 'see everything and see absolutely nothing' at once. It is not too much of spoiler to say that he never serves the King of England... or is it? You'll just have to read the book. 'I served the King of England' has been translated into numerous languages. I asked Jiri Menzel if he thought that Hrabal had international appeal:

"I think so, yes. It is to do with his relationship with people, and the particular way that he puts things into view. He looks at things from a different angle than other people. He makes us scrutinize ordinary things in an extraordinary way."

That was an excerpt from 'Closely Observed Trains', Menzel's most celebrated collaboration with Hrabal. While Menzel is insisting that he is a commercial director, just happy to be in work; few directors could have such authority when dramatizing Hrabal. With 'Closely Observed Trains' and three other films based upon the author's work successfully under his belt, it is 'full steam ahead' for Menzel's latest cinematic project.