The film gives international audiences what they expect from Britain – a nice bit of posh – while also titillating natives with convincing oik detail.
In Kingsman: The Secret Service, out next month, a tasty little herbert called Eggsy from a London sink estate is recruited by the impeccably soigné, lah-di-dah spook Harry Hart, played by Colin Firth. Hart detects that Eggsy has the right stuff, the true Brit if you will, to transcend his oikish upbringing and become One Of Us. Now if Eggsy, played by Taron Egerton, can survive the training course in which he is pitted against a bunch of stuckup, over-entitled Oxbridge ponces (plus the token bit of hottie posh whose snobby froideur melts at our hero’s bit-of-rough charms), then he can become a Kingsman.
For all the explosions and three-figure body count, Kingsman is heritage drama: it knows the history of the Brit spy genre back to front; plus it knows how to deploy a version of the British class system with an eye to maximising foreign sales, just like Julian Fellowes did when concocting Gosford Park and Downton Abbey.
In Kingsman, if not in real life, the sclerotic British class system can be transcended. Eggsy realises that for Firth – part toff Gok Wan, part 21st century Henry Higgins – he is Eliza Dolittle with better muscle tone, and succumbs to his makeover. The soundtrack accompanies him on his spiritual journey from geezer to gent: early on, he goes joyriding through rain-slicked mean streets in a nicked motor with Dizzee Rascal’s urban underclass groove importunately puffing and blowing in the audience’s collective earhole; later, to the dapper strains of Bryan Ferry’s Slave to Love, he becomes the finished article, suited, booted and capable of ordering a proper gin martini.
Posh sells abroad, in particular to Americans who can’t break out of their mindset of what Britain is; the headline on a recent New York Times non-analysis of the British class system went “British Noses, Firmly in the Air”. The French have wine, the Germans have cars, we have Colin Firth in Pride and Prejudice breeches or knock-off Bond schmutter.