All you need to know about Saudi Arabia film, Born A King
YOU COULDN'T MISS Saudi National Day in the UAE. From monuments lit up in the country's flag to traditional performances in local venues, neighbourly love was at an all time high and it looks to continue this weekend with the release of Born A King - a biopic centering on the boyhood rise to acclaim of The Kingdom's influential King Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.
Opening in 1919 with a young Prince Faisal who, at just 13 years old, makes his first journey to Great Britain to be received by King George V and his Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lord Curzon, the 19 million Euro production's value can instantly be witnessed in the film's technical prowess. High-value sets, authentic locations and a cast including Saudi newcomers and British actors such as Ed Skrein (Deadpool and Maleficent: Mistress of Evil) and Hermione Corfield (Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation), grant this mature project pride of place at the cinemas today.
European powers are looking to recover from the Great War and the victorious countries - particularly the UK and France - turn their attention to establishing a new world order. Prince Faisal, son of the future unifier of Arabia, the Emir of the Nejd, Abdulaziz Al Saud, leaves the desert sands for the first time to visit the continent in order to request a non-interference mandate - a policy of neutrality that might pave the way for peace in the Middle East and a unified nation. The Prince must battle colonial mindsets and the fact he is merely a teenager in order to successfully negotiate the desired outcome. Given the story is widely known, we don't think it is too much of a spoiler to nod to the fact he was victorious. With laughs and drama along the way, it was however, a bumpy ride.
"It has been a wonderful experience for me," Born A King's Oscar-winning producer Andrés Vicente Gómez said when we met in Dubai this week. "I have worked three years since we started developing the picture and from the very first moment we got support and help from the Al Faisal family who supervised the actions and casting."
Alongside the filmmaker at the conference sat Saudi actor Rawkan Binbella who portrays King Abdulaziz in the movie and the real King Faisal's grandson, Prince Saud Bin Turki Al Faisal, who played a crucial role in putting elements of the picture together.
"We wanted to start with the beginning of King Faisal's life as a diplomat before becoming Viceroy of Hejaz, Crown Prince and then King," Prince Saud Bin Turki Al Faisal explained when a question was put to him as to why this period of the historical figure's life was chosen. "We couldn't fit his whole life in one film. Mr. Andres came up with the idea to have only this trip and the significance of this trip. It is the recognition of Saudi Arabia, of King Abdulaziz as the leader in the Arabian Peninsula. We are, however, willing to expand and come up with a sequel. This is only the genesis."
One of the film's remarkable aspects, it was noted, was the diverse cast - particularly employing actors from The Kingdom to take on the main roles.
"They had to be Saudis or it wouldn't be believable," Gomez said. "From the very first moment we thought we needed Saudi actors. They didn't exist because they don't have an industry, but we searched all over. We found Rawkan was a young Saudi trying to make it in Hollywood. He is a model and had done some shorts. We saw his material and he has an advantage: he is a handsome man and tall. That helps!
"Regarding the boy (Abdullah Ali as Prince Faisal), we tested almost 200 boys for the part. Finally by accident we came across this young man at the American School in Jeddah. We did a screen test and liked it."
During the film's initial stages Saudi Arabia was yet to authorise the reinstatement of public cinemas, which dictated Born A King was originally planned for only an overseas release. Now those back home can revel in a biopic of their homegrown hero and perhaps get to see future installments.
"For me as a producer, I make money for making movies so if they have many Superman films why can't we make eight or ten movies about King Faisal?" Gomez said.
"I think it is time for us to tell our story as it was and not let anyone else speak our story not just of Saudi Arabia but all the Arab countries," Prince Saud Bin Turki Al Faisal concluded. "Movies are a very powerful method to speak and show what you really have and what your culture is."
Rawkan Binbella on playing King Abdulaziz
"It was a great honour to play such a great character. I hope I bring some of his personality to life. It is an honour to resemble such a great man. I have always received comments that I look like the only picture we have of him as a young man. I have always felt a connection to it. I was very happy when I got the role."