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Film / King Ralph

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Phipps: Sir Cedric! Sir Cedric! Good news. I do believe we've found an heir!
Sir Cedric Willingham: That's wonderful, Duncan. Who is it?
Phipps: His name is Jones. Ralph Jones.
Sir Cedric Willingham: Ralph Jones... Is he everything we might've hoped?
Phipps: Well. He has his strengths and his weaknesses. You see... he's an American.
Sir Cedric Willingham: Quickly, Duncan! The strengths!

King Ralph is a 1991 American comedy film directed by David S. Ward and starring John Goodman, Peter O'Toole, and John Hurt.

After a freak accident wipes out most of the British royal family, the only heir that can be found is American lounge singer Ralph Jones (Goodman). Accepting the job assuming he won't really have to do anything, Ralph soon learns there's more expected of him. He struggles to become a good king with the help of his chief advisor, Sir Cedric Willingham (O'Toole). A burgeoning romance with Miranda Greene causes problems. She is from a working-class family and is not considered an acceptable match for a king. He also has to deal with the machinations of Lord Percival Graves (Hurt), who is certain he could become king himself if only he could get Ralph to abdicate, and hopes to use Miranda to do so.

The film was loosely based on a novel by Welsh actor Emlyn Williams titled Headlong.

This film provides examples of:

  • Abdicate the Throne: Ralph decides to abdicate when the existence of another Wyndham heir - Sir Cedric - is revealed. Doing so allows him to hand the British throne over to an honorable man, focus on his music career, and help rebuild the royal family.
  • Abhorrent Admirer: Princess Anna is enthusiastic about her mooted marriage to Ralph, who does not reciprocate, though his problem is with her personality and her voice not her appearance (and the fact he is already in love with someone else).
  • Acrofatic: Ralph is quite agile for his build.
  • Adaptation Name Change:
    • In the original novel Headlong, the one who becomes king is named Jack Green (né Sandring) rather than Ralph Jones.
    • Sir Cedric Willingham's counterpart in the book was named William "Willie" Millingham.
    • The original novel had Jack's authority challenged by Sir Godwin Rodd, who in this film is renamed Lord Percival Graves.
  • Adaptation Title Change: King Ralph is loosely based on the novel Headlong.
  • Adaptational Job Change: Ralph Jones is first seen working as a lounge singer, while Jack Green, his equivalent in the book Headlong, was a stage actor before he became king.
  • Adaptational Nationality: In the book Headlong, which this movie is loosely based on, the one who ends up becoming the new King of England is a British stage actor named Jack Green (né Sandring). In this movie, he is instead an American lounge singer named Ralph Jones.
  • Adipose Rex: The film is about the quite portly Ralph becoming King of the United Kingdom.
  • All There in the Manual: During the closing credits, Ralph and Miranda are happily married, and are watching their young son playing a toy piano. The son is listed in the credits as "Ralph II".
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Lord Graves tries to do what he can to discredit Ralph and usurp the throne.
  • Arranged Marriage: One is planned between Ralph and Princess Anna of Finland.
  • Artist and the Band: After becoming the Third Duke of Warren, Ralph forms a band with several female backup singers called Ralph and The Dukettes.
  • Artistic License:
    • There are thousands of people eligible to inherit the British throne under the Act of Settlement 1701, rather than the two dozen seen here. If every single one of them was to either die or be disqualified in some way, the monarch who is most closely related would take control of the kingdom. Additionally, illegitimate children and their descendants are disqualified from the line of succession.
    • Ralph and Cedric wouldn't be referred to as "the first" — there can't be a "first" monarch until there's been a second monarch with the same name (which is why Queen Victoria is just "Victoria", not "Victoria the First"). However, see "All There In The Manual".
    • Finland is a republic. Although at the time of independence, a possibility was considered that a certain German prince would take the throne, implying that this movie may take place in an Alternate History.
    • The heir to the Royal House of Stuart at the time of the film was not a British peer but a German aristocrat, Albrecht, Duke of Bavaria, who never showed any interest in pursuing any claims to the British throne. Also the Hanoverians would come before the Stuarts if Parliament was forced to declare another House as the royal line, although the latter situation would only arise if the descendants of Sophia of Hanover, who include all of the Royal House of Hanover, died out.
    • A British peer never has his first name sandwiched between 'Lord' and his peerage title. Referring to Lord Graves as "Lord Percival Graves" would be a serious social gaffe. He would be referred to as "Percival, Lord Graves" or simply "Lord Graves".
  • Babies Ever After: The ending shows Ralph and Miranda having a toddler son.
  • Becoming the Mask: Miranda does genuinely fall for Ralph.
  • Big Fun: Ralph, it's one of the reasons he doesn't mesh well with the aristocracy.
  • Book Ends: While watching the Royal Family's funeral outside a TV store, Dysentery asks a fellow punk why she's crying and is scolded for not having any national pride. Later, during Ralph's abdication address, Dysentery sheds Manly Tears because he liked Ralph and what he brought to the throne.
  • Bulungi: One fictional African country called "Zambezi" appears, which has a monarchy and is ruled by one King Mulambon, who becomes good friends with Ralph.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: YMMV on "brilliant," but Ralph is a truly talented musician first seen slumming in a low-rent Vegas lounge, barely paying attention to his own performance. Cedric notes he's always been an underachiever, but Ralph actually adjusts to royal protocol when he puts his mind to it (his greeting of the Danish royal family is miles above his first attempt with King Mulambon.)
  • Deadpan Snarker: Ralph makes a few snarky comments, mainly about the rules he's expected to follow.
  • Death by Adaptation: It is mentioned in passing that Ralph's mother is deceased, when the original book Headlong had Jack's mother live to see her son become king and eventually abdicate the throne.
  • Dies Differently in Adaptation: The novel Headlong had the Royal Family killed by an exploding dirigible, while in this film their deaths are caused by mass electrocution from rain soaking the light extensions for their portrait being taken.
  • Disaster Dominoes:
    • The whole electrocution sequence. Just one thing done differently would have probably saved most, if not all the people there.
    • At the banquet with Finland's royal family, Ralph's attempt to cut into a roasted miniature chicken causes it to shoot off his plate, knocking over his drinking glass. The chicken and glass set off a chain reaction that topples all the other glasses from one end of the very long table to the other. That being said, if just one of the snooty toffs had grabbed their glass out of the way instead of squealing, it wouldn't have gone as far.
  • Ermine Cape Effect: Averted. When not on state business, Ralph continues to dress the same way he used to.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Miranda eventually falls for Ralph and stops doing Lord Graves' bidding. Naturally, he assumes Miranda is holding out for more money.
  • Fish out of Water: This is a movie about an American becoming King of England, after all. A lot of the humor comes from Ralph trying to adapt to British culture.
  • Hidden Backup Prince: Ralph, and then later on Cedric.
  • Implausible Deniability: When Ralph confronts Lord Graves -
    Graves: This is an outrage! A vile piece of slander! I demand to know the source of these allegations!
    Ralph: We have the signed confession of a royal page, Gordon Halliwell, who worked with Lord Graves.
    Graves: I know no such man!
    Ralph: And several cheques made out to the photographers who took the pictures, signed by Lord Graves. Whose fingerprints were also on the photographs.
    Graves: So! I saw them at the ball!
    Ralph: And Scotland Yard found the negatives at his house this morning.
    Graves: By what right can you order my arrest!
    Ralph: By the Treason Act of 1702, forbidding interference in the proper succession of a monarch. Enacted by...[pause, as he recites the Order of the Kings poem to himself] William the Third!
    • It was actually enacted by Queen Anne, William's sister-in-law and cousin.
  • In Name Only: A rare example of the trope where not even the name is kept by the adaptation. The end credits acknowledge the film as being based on the novel Headlong by Emlyn Williams, when the only thing the two works have in common is that both have the premise of the Royal Family getting killed in a freak accident and some schmoe becoming the new king because he turns out to be a distant relative of the Royal Family.
  • It Has Been an Honor: A non-dying one as Ralph leaves Wyndham Castle, as he says his goodbyes to Tommy, Duncan, and Cedric. Duncan himself is near tears.
  • King Incognito: Ralph attempts this by disguising himself as a mounted guard then going out on the streets of London after tying up his horse. The effort is not as successful as he would have liked as people do recognize him and look at him funny, and when he and Miranda go to a local Burger King the girl behind the counter identifies him right away. Ralph and Miranda have to beat a hasty exit through the back doors before the local news media descends on the place.
  • Knighting: Ralph almost cuts off a man's ear during the ceremony. When he gets knighted at the end, he protects both his ears.
  • Lessons in Sophistication: An American schlub becomes King of England when the entire Royal family is killed in a photography accident. (He is the bastard grandson of a Royal Duke.) After he becomes king he is given lessons in acting royally by Sir Cedric.
  • Meaningful Rename: Averted. Even though his private secretary thinks Ralph should rule under a different name such as George and can't think of any notable Ralphs, Ralph refuses to adopt a new name and keeps his own name.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed:
    • The British royal family, which is led by an unnamed generic king, is called the Wyndhams, different but similar to the last name of the real-life British royal family, the Windsors. Strangely enough, the castle he visits while hunting is still called "Windsor Castle".note 
    • An odd case is that a Finnish royal family appears. In real life, Finland has never had one, having been a republic since independence. It seems that the filmmakers wanted to avoid upsetting any country that does have a royal family in real life.
    • Also with King Mulambon of Zambezi, avoiding the use of any of the three African monarchies by using a fictional country.
    • Averted with Lord Graves, who is descended from the house of Stuart.
    • Notably, they don't even try to be accurate with the depictions of the various royals, with only their outfits even able to tell you who each actor is meant to be representing.
  • No Endor Holocaust: Being a comedy it's sort of swept under the rug that the loss of the entire royal family at one time would be a really miserably sad time in England which would not be easy to forget, involving multiple funerals, some for children. A funeral is shown, with an absurdly long funeral parade through the streets, it's just largely glossed over by the fact, during the entire period they're trying to find someone who WASN'T at the photography session.
  • No OSHA Compliance: Totally played for laughs and purely as a plot device-in reality, the photographers would never have been so lackadaisical about having their electrics in several inches of water, and if so, they would need beheading on the spot!note 
  • Odd Friendship: King Mulambon of Zambezi — a cultured intelligent man — becomes friends with the boorish but likeable Ralph. This is explained as the movie goes on that both are very new royalty and are fed up with all the boring details of being a king. The fact that they could simply go to a pub, have a few pints, and shoot the shit is probably something most royalty would love. It pays off later on when Ralph is able to secure business deals with Mulambon to create thousands of jobs.
  • One Dialogue, Two Conversations: Ralph and Gustav have a conversation about "fox hunting". Gustav believes they are talking genuinely about hunting foxes, whereas Ralph is talking about the pursuit of women colloquially referred to as foxes.
  • One-Steve Limit: Played with: discussing the official naming of the king, Sir Cedric says he can't really think of any notable Ralphs, prompting His Majesty to rattle off a few.
    Ralph: Oh sure. Ralph Macchio. Ralph Lauren. Ralph Kramden...
  • Rags to Royalty: Deconstructed. Ralph is unsuited for the politicking and intrigue of the royal court.
  • Refusal of the Call: Cedric admits to Ralph he asked not to be given the crown, citing fear of being king and a lack of a child to continue the line. To his credit, he makes no attempt to evade Ralph's questioning, and sincerely apologizes for "both my deception and my cowardice."
  • Requisite Royal Regalia: A ring owned by Ralph's grandmother has a duplicate, proving to him that Duncan is not pulling some prank.
  • Royal Bastard: Ralph's father was the bastard son of the Duke of Warren; since Ralph is the last surviving heir to the House of Wyndham, he becomes king of England.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Unlike current British monarchs in Real Life, Ralph is expected to be an active architect of foreign policy (even to the point of negotiating fine details of trade agreements - which he does at the end). To be fair, royalty cementing political and economic alliances through marriage (which is what is asked of Ralph) still occurs and has been occurring for centuries, and Ralph's advisors probably want him to marry a member of a royal family so the British monarchy will have someone on board who is used to royal life and protocol.
  • Ruling Family Massacre: The film kicks off with one. Of the rare accidental kind.
  • Setting Update: This film takes place in contemporary times, when the original novel Headlong took place in the 1930's.
  • Smug Snake: Lord Graves is an arrogant bastard who tries to discredit Ralph so he can take control of the throne himself.
  • State Visit: Done twice; the first time, the visit from the King of Zambezi goes well, with the two going to a pub and playing darts (during the rematch, they play using spears), but the second time, a more formal state visit from the Finnish royal family is a disaster, especially after Ralph plays "Good Golly, Miss Molly" on a harpsichord.
  • Storefront Television Display: A group of punks watch first the collective funeral procession of the Royal Family, and then later on in the film watch Ralph's abdication speech.
  • Succession Crisis: The story begins with the Royal Family being killed and England trying to find an immediate successor.
  • There Is Another: Cedric is also a potential heir, though as he is childless and elderly, Ralph would have been king soon anyway - and it's implied that Baby Ralph might someday succeed Cedric as monarch.
  • Took a Level in Badass: When the chips are down and Ralph realizes the full impact of his behavior, he shows what he can do when he takes things seriously, making some amends for the job losses he caused and outing the treasonous Lord Graves, followed by a rousing and heartwarming farewell.
  • Unexpected Successor: Ralph. Cedric, too. Lord Graves tries to become one.