The paramount obstacle for filmmakers to overcome when introducing the viewer to a whole new world with a new set of rules to comprehend, is to have them invest, emotionally, and engage with the hypothetical narrative at hand, to comfortably inhabit this foreign environment and abide by it. In Alex Helfrecht and Jorg Tittel’s The White King that much is a given, as they build this dystopian near-future with a minimum contrivance, and have us compelled.

Based on Gyorgy Dragoman’s novel, we meet the Fitz family, as Hannah (Agyness Deyn) and husband Peter (Ross Partridge) play freely with their young son Djata (Lorenzo Allchurch). But any such liberation is short-lived, as Peter is taken away by the law enforcement, accused of being a traitor to the brutal, unforgiving dictatorship they live within. Imprisoned and with a slim chance of release, Djata and his mother are labelled traitors by the local neighbourhood and robbed of any privileges, as they strive to get by in this bleak environment. Though the young boy is not taking no for an answer, with a courage and interminable energy that keeps him fighting back against the establishment, wanting nothing more than to just see his father again.

The White KingWhat allows for the viewer to immerse themselves in this universe with such ease, is by having a child as our entry point, as we adopt their blissful perspective, observing and absorbing just as he is. It also helps, for a film with so much going on, to simplify it to a very intimate, personal narrative, of a young boy wanting to be reunited with his father, stripping away the convoluted context and maintaining that relatable, human touch. That said, there is an inclination to perhaps cram too much into this modest runtime of just under 90 minutes, and the complexity can, at times, get the better of the narrative, as the filmmakers stumble at the challenge in balancing such a myriad of themes and sub-storylines. Allchurch turns in an impressive display however, as a tough, multi-layered role for him to undertake, but he comes out well.

The aesthetic is gratifying too, as the filmmakers shoot this setting well, presenting the story in a resourceful manner. The score is also brilliantly judged and helps to maintain the raw, severity of the story with the surrealistic edge that lingers. On a more negative note, regrettably some of the supporting cast are not quite up to scratch (Jonathan Pryce and Fiona Shaw as Djata’s grandparents aside) but that is a common casualty in independent cinema, as ensuring a full house of impressive acting performances without the budget to assemble such a cast is jarring on this occasion, but still not enough to take away too much from an otherwise engrossing affair.