King Ralph

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King Ralph
A man sitting on a throne wearing a Las Vegas tshirt.
Theatrical release poster
Directed byDavid S. Ward
Produced byJack Brodsky
Screenplay byDavid S. Ward
Based onthe novel Headlong
by Emlyn Williams
Music byJames Newton Howard
CinematographyKenneth MacMillan
Edited byJohn Jympson
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • February 15, 1991 (1991-02-15)
Running time
97 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$23 million
Box office$52,487,045

King Ralph is a 1991 American comedy film directed by David S. Ward and starring John Goodman, Peter O'Toole, and John Hurt.[1] The film is about an American who becomes the unlikely King of the United Kingdom after an electrical accident wipes out the British royal family.

The story is loosely based on the novel Headlong by Emlyn Williams. Very little of the story survived the transition to the screen; characters were changed and the story made into a comedy. The film was a minor box office hit.


When the entire British royal family is electrocuted and killed in a freak accident outside Buckingham Palace while having a royal portrait taken, Sir Cedric Willingham leads a search for any surviving heirs to whom to pass the crown. After days of researching, his team finally locates a living heir in the form of an American named Ralph Jones. Shortly after being fired from his job as a lounge singer in Las Vegas, Ralph is informed by Cedric's assistant private secretary Duncan Phipps that his grandmother Constance had an affair with the first Duke of Warren while working as a hotel waitress when the Duke visited the United States, resulting in Ralph having royal blood. Phipps provides further proof by showing Ralph a duplicate of the ring his grandmother used to wear that the Duke had given her.

Ralph is flown to London, where Cedric gives him a crash course on royal etiquette. In only his second day as King, he goes to a strip club and meets Miranda Greene, an out-of-luck exotic dancer and aspiring fashion designer, and dares her to go out on a date with him if the British press proves his claim to the monarchy. Meanwhile, Lord Percival Graves is opposed to having an American on the throne and proposes to declare the reigning House of Wyndham at an end and replace it with the House of Stuart, of which he is patriarch. Prime Minister Geoffrey Hale states that Ralph's succession is legitimate unless he commits a grievous error. With this in mind, Graves bribes a cash-strapped Miranda to stir up controversy by having a public relationship with Ralph. Despite warnings by Cedric not to commit a mistake similar to that of King Edward VIII, Ralph sneaks out of the Palace to have a romantic date with Miranda at Hyde Park. The next day, Miranda returns the money to Graves, but he already has photographs of her with Ralph. In order to preserve Ralph's reputation, Miranda breaks up with him.

Despite Ralph's reluctance to accept British culture and his ineptness in formal affairs, he makes a positive impression on King Mulambon of Zambezi during the latter's state visit. The two monarchs share their concerns about the role of leadership they have assumed and the economic interests of their nations. Ralph accumulates a small but loyal following.

Ralph's staff arrange for him to marry Princess Anna of Finland to continue the royal bloodline and guarantee jobs for the UK in Finland's newly discovered oil reserves in the Baltic Sea. On the night of the Finnish Royal Family's visit, Ralph is turned off by Princess Anna's unusually deep voice, her bizarre sexual preferences, and her nonchalant acceptance of arranged royal marriage. Miranda attends the royal ball as a set-up by Graves, and photos of her affair with Ralph are given to Anna's father King Gustav which, along with Ralph's wild musical number of "Good Golly, Miss Molly", results in Finland turning down the UK in favor of Japan for the offshore equipment contract. Having failed to realize that the role of King comes with certain expectations, and that he cannot rely on his charm or blue-collar background, Ralph accepts a stern rebuke from Cedric and endeavors to set things right. Miranda confesses to Ralph her role in the scandal and he walks out on her. Ralph develops suspicions about his circumstances and learns through Phipps that Cedric is another heir to the throne. His mother who was a parlor maid had a one night stand with the king and Cedric turned down the role.

Ralph addresses Parliament, apologizing for his recent actions and informing the country that he has worked out a deal with King Mulambon for Zambezi to purchase £200 million worth of British mining equipment and open three car engine plants in Britain, ensuring jobs for Miranda's family and thousands of Britons. He then reveals that Graves has been sabotaging his succession to the throne and has him arrested for violating the Treason Act of 1702 that was enacted by William III. Finally, he announces that he will abdicate and reveals Cedric as his successor.

After Cedric accepts his duty as King, Ralph is appointed as the Third Duke of Warren, with a lucrative annual salary and his own recording studio in his own country estate. He marries Miranda and raises his son Ralph II with her while fronting his own singing group Ralph and the Dukettes. They perform a cover of "Duke of Earl" as the credits roll.


  • John Goodman as Ralph Hampton Gainsworth Jones, a lounge singer from Las Vegas and heir to the British royal family. Bill Murray was considered for the titular role.[2]
  • Peter O'Toole as Sir Cedric Charles Willingham, Ralph's advisor who is another heir to the British royal family.
  • John Hurt as Lord Percival Graves, a lord who wants the House of Stewart to succeed the House of Wyndham.
  • Camille Coduri as Miranda Greene, an exotic dancer that Ralph falls for.
  • Ann Beach as Miranda's Mother
  • Jack Smethurst as Miranda's Father
  • Richard Griffiths as Duncan Phipps, Cedric's assistant private secretary.
  • Leslie Phillips as Gordon Halliwell
  • James Villiers as Prime Minister Geoffrey Hale
  • Joely Richardson as Princess Anna, the Princess of Finland.
  • Niall O'Brien as Inspector Thomas McGuire
  • Julian Glover as King Gustav, the King of Finland.
  • Judy Parfitt as Queen Katherine
  • Leo Jean as Grampy
  • Gedren Heller as Punk Girl
  • Ed Stobart as Dysentery
  • Rudolph Walker as King Mulambon, the King of Zambezi.
  • Michael Johnson as Hamilton
  • Caroline Patterson as Counter Girl, a girl who works at Burger King.
  • Tim Seely as The King of England, Ralph's unnamed predecessor who perishes alongside his family in a photography-based accident.
  • Alison McGuire as The Queen of England, the unnamed wife of the King of England who perishes alongside her family in a photography-based accident.
  • Chantal Claire, Topaz Hasfal-Schou, and Charlotte Pyecroft as the Dukettes, the backup singers for Ralph.
  • Jason Richards as Ralph II, the baby son of Ralph and Miranda.



King Ralph was shot in various locations in England. Stand-ins for Buckingham Palace include Wrotham Park, Syon House, Somerset House, Harewood House, Old Royal Naval College, Apsley House, Belvoir Castle, Hagley Hall, Lancaster House, and Blenheim Palace. Warwick Castle and Hever Castle were used to substitute the interior shots for Windsor Castle. St Pancras railway station was used to film the scene introducing the Finnish Royal Family. Highclere Castle was used for Lord Graves' home. Dalton, South Yorkshire, was the location of Miranda's parents' home.[3]


Universal Pictures launched a marketing campaign for the film, including a partnership with Burger King valued at US$8 million.[4]


The film's score was composed by James Newton Howard, while the soundtrack features songs performed by John Goodman:

  1. "Tiny Bubbles"
  2. "Good Golly, Miss Molly"
  3. "Duke of Earl"

Other songs featured in the film include:

  1. "Good Golly, Miss Molly" by Jeff Lynne
  2. "Be-Bop-A-Lula" by Gene Vincent and His Blue Chaps
  3. "Moulin Rouge"
  4. "I'm in the Mood for Love"


Box office[edit]

In the US the film earned $8.3 million in its opening weekend, in third place.[5]

Critical response[edit]

Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 27% based on reviews from 11 critics, with an average rating of 4.8/10.[6]

Owen Glieberman of Entertainment Weekly gave the film a C grade, complaining about the entirely predictable jokes, but praising Goodman for his likable performance.[7] Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert of At the Movies gave the film "Two Thumbs Down", with Ebert commenting that "it might have been funnier if John Goodman had played a sleazeball instead of a cuddly nice guy."[8] William Thomas of Empire magazine gave the film two out of five stars, calling it "Poor, even for a 'funny because he's fat' film."[9]


  1. ^ "No Leading Man, King Ralph Insists". Los Angeles Times. February 12, 1991. Retrieved September 26, 2013.
  2. ^ Evans, Bradford (February 16, 2012). "The Lost Roles of Bill Murray, Part Two". Splitsider. Retrieved August 10, 2015.
  3. ^ "Where was King Ralph filmed?". British Film Locations. Retrieved October 31, 2017.
  4. ^ "Universal Banking on Long King Ralph Reign". Variety. February 17, 1991. Retrieved October 31, 2017.
  5. ^ Broeske, Pat H. (February 20, 1991). "Oscar Bids Boost 'Dances With Wolves' Box Office". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 11, 2011.
  6. ^ "King Ralph". Rotten Tomatoes/Flixster. Retrieved March 28, 2020.
  7. ^ Glieberman, Owen (March 1, 1991). "King Ralph". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved October 16, 2017.
  8. ^ "Scenes from a Mall/Nothing But Trouble/He Said, She Said/King Ralph/The Field". Siskel & Retrieved October 31, 2017.
  9. ^ Thomas, William (January 1, 2000). "King Ralph Review". Empire. Retrieved October 31, 2017.

External links[edit]