The Kingmaker




Another wealthy woman, Imelda Marcos, comes under the critical eye of Lauren Greenfield.

Kingmaker, The


It was in 2012 that the documentarist Lauren Greenfield made a strong mark with a film about the billionaire David Siegel and his third wife, Jackie. That was The Queen of Versailles and it established her as a filmmaker fascinated by people with wealth but nevertheless capable of skewering her subjects who probably thought that she was admiring them. The less adept Generation Wealth (2018) followed and, given this background, it is easy to understand why Imelda Marcos, former first lady of the Philippines, should have become the subject of The Kingmaker. The outcome is a fascinating film but also one that is weakened by the fact that any study of the wife of the late Ferdinand Marcos, president from 1965 to 1986, leads into material that calls for a different approach.


Earlier this year we saw Petra Costa’s The Edge of Democracy set in Brazil and featuring two of its former presidents. Nevertheless, it was the damning and tragic history of that country in recent terms that quite properly provided the spine of that film. In contrast, Imelda Marcos, now 90 years old, is the pivot of The Kingmaker, a title hinting not only at her influence over her late husband but underlining her importance as a widow promoting her son Bongbong Marcos in his 2016 candidature to become vice-president, her later role in supporting the current president Rodrigo Duterte and her continuing strategy suggestive of a determination to bring back her family into a position of power.


From early on in the film criticisms of Imelda Marcos emerge from intercut interviews with others, but she has prime place emerging as a woman breathtakingly self-centred and insincere, someone who without realising it comes across as a satire of herself. In its way, this is great stuff, but it is a side issue compared to the horror perpetrated by her late husband who imposed martial law on the country and by the present president under whom killings are common while the widespread corruption extends to the police. It is in the second half of The Kingmaker that these elements fully emerge, but the film still focuses on Imelda Marcos even to the extent of returning again and again to the wild animals imported by her and set up in a reserve on Calauit Island at the expense of the local inhabitants forcefully removed. Her influence clearly makes her a key figure in the recent history of the Philippines, but it is that calamitous history that calls out to be the central focus here rather than the woman who has contributed to it. Make no mistake, there is a lot of fascinating material in Lauren Greenfield’s film, but it is this imbalance over what should be central to it that gives one a certain sense of disquiet over the approach adopted.




Featuring  Imelda Marcos, Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jnr, Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino, Etta Rosales, Leni Robredo, Corazon Aquino, Beth Day Romulo, Tony Parkinson, Pete Lacaba, May Rodriguez.


Dir Lauren Greenfield, Pro Frank Evers and Lauren Greenfield, Screenplay Lauren Greenfield, Ph Lars Skree and Shana Hagan, Ed Per K. Kirkegaard, Music Jocelyn Pook.


Show Time Documentary Films/Evergreen/Artemis Rising/Bloomberg Candescent Films/Impact Partners/Danish Documentary-Dogwoof.
101 mins. USA/Denmark. 2019. Rel: 13 December 2019. Cert. 15.