Based on the graphic novel, The Secret Service, by Mark Miller and Watchman artist, Dave Gibbons, Kingsman: The Secret Service tells the story of Eggsy, a young man who wasn’t born into money but grows up to become a gentleman spy. This past weekend, Kingsman: The Golden Circle arrived in theaters, but today’s list focuses on the first film, and how it adapted the plot of the text to suit its big screen needs.
The casting of the movie adaptation is spot-on: Taron Egerton as Eggsy. Colin Firth tapping into some inner-James Bond to play the part of Harry Hart. These are the characters fans will remember best from reading the comics, but their memories may begin to fail them when attempting to recall just how these characters know each other and interact within the source material. In this area, the film’s taken some turns since its comic days, so in order to better track where the biggest differences lie between the two mediums, here is a [SPOILER-filled] list of Secret Service’s biggest digressions.
One note in advance: Harry Hart from the movie, and Jack London in the book, aren't exactly the same character (and their names aren't remotely similar), but they do fulfill the same role as Eggsy's Kingsman mentor, and have enough overlap in their stories to justify comparison.
Mark Hamill has probably had his fill of Star Wars fan questions, but hopefully, none of those fans ever tried to kidnap him and grill him at the same time. It’s this scene that greets readers at the beginning of Secret Service. While a gentleman spy does come to whisk Hamill away, he might’ve been better off staying kidnapped. The whole reason Arnold (the big bad of the comic) sent men for Hamill was to keep him safe when he enacted his plan for population control. In the book, Arnold’s a Star Wars fan, too, but this changes drastically in the movie.
First of all, Arnold isn’t the main villain in the film (that honor goes to Samuel L. Jackson’s Valentine). But as a way of acknowledging this scene from the book, Professor Arnold, not Hamill, is kidnapped by Valentine, and Arnold is played by none other than Mark Hamill.
While in no way condoning such behavior in real life, you’d think that given the option to kidnap David Beckham or a Swedish princess, the team behind the film, Kingsman, would’ve picked Beckham. That’s how it’s written in the book, anyway. While the film expands Valentine’s purview to include politicians, Arnold’s priority in the graphic novel is to collect all his favorite actors and crew from sci-fi movies. That way, he ensures they don’t get hurt when he enacts his master plan to save the planet.
That’s not to say that Valentine doesn’t have his eye on celebrities, too. We know he picked up Iggy Azaela, but that’s just word of mouth, and she doesn’t actually appear in the movie. Meanwhile, in the book, Arnold comes this close to counting Ridley Scott among the people he rounds up.
In the book, Eggsy has to pass various tests before he can be recognized as a spy. The movie’s no different, save for one, fundamental change: the tests in the film are a competition. Everyone in the book is working towards becoming a spy, but the movie understands that there can only be one, to fill a recently opened position (this happens occasionally in such dangerous lines of work).
The dynamic in the movie, between Eggsy and the other candidates, is much more toxic, since they’re gunning for the same job and only one person can get it in the end. There’s no question that Eggsy’s upbringing offends their upper classism, but it’s his talent that most offends their chances of becoming a Kingsman next.
In the book, London tells Eggsy and his mother that he works for the Fraud Squad. When Eggsy needs to leave for training, he expands upon this lie to say he’s going to work with computers. In the movie, Harry’s cover story swings back to the swank attire he wears as a Kingsman, when he claims to be employed as a tailor.
His actual job gets altered slightly from the book as well. All of the backstory Harry tells Eggsy in the movie, about the Kingsman being a separate organization that operates apart from the government, is a lot more complicated than the explanation we get in the book. There, he’s just an MI6 agent with impeccable fashion sense, no different from James Bond, who gets repeatedly name-dropped, by the way.
In the movie, Eggsy specifically steals his stepfather’s friend’s car. When the police get on their tail, he gives his friends a chance to make a run for it, and he’s later the only one who gets arrested. There’s also the part where he deliberately ends the chase by ramming into one of the police cars, since going in quietly would've been unacceptable after getting himself cornered.
Book Eggsy has less of a choice in how his car chase comes to an end, since he crashes his car into a pole with his friends still inside in order to avoid a dog in the road. While the car’s owner doesn’t come up in general conversation, one of his friends did wonder in advance whether yellow was the best choice for getting away with grand theft auto.
Besides the dog who walks in front of Eggsy's car, causing him to swerve, there is a clear deficit of animals in the Secret Service comic. Kingsman goes a long way to make up for this sleight by having one of the tests involve Eggsy taking a dog on as a pet. This lays the groundwork for the next test, where Eggsy is told to prove his loyalty by assassinating his dog, or be eliminated as a viable candidate.
While Eggsy is unwilling to do this (though he'd later learn that the bullets were blank), the fact remains that had he pulled the trigger he would’ve shown himself prepared to be a murderer. The book includes an assassination assignment, too, but the victims in that were human, and Eggsy works around the moral dilemma of that confrontation by turning it into a case of self-defense.
Most of the tests Eggsy and the others complete in the movie are different from those they're tasked with in the book, starting with how they wake up to find the water rising, to the point that they almost drown. That test is exclusive to the movie. Same goes for the parachute trick, where they jump out of a plane and have to land in a certain zone.
Meanwhile in the book, you have Eggsy reluctantly persuading strangers to spare him a little cash, until he raises a certain amount. One challenge that makes it through both the book and the film? Seducing women in a bar, of course, where Eggsy is pitted against the others to catch the eye of the same lady, who’s in for a very long night.
Everyone knows that scene in Kingsman when Harry lets loose on a bunch of Dean’s goons after they mistake his age and suit for an easy opponent. Surely a stiff, proper Englishman will be no match for them? Boy, are they ever wrong.
Using an umbrella as a weapon that the book’s London wishes he owned (don’t worry – he does perfectly fine without one), those punks aren’t going to be coming back anytime soon. What sets off the fight, though, isn’t exactly the same in both iterations.
Mostly, Dean’s guys are looking for Eggsy in the movie and when Harry injects himself into their conversation, they lash out. In the book, London and Eggsy are having a private conversation, and it’s Dean’s cronies who start calling them out, unprompted.
Another one of the major fight scenes in Kingsman the movie involves Harry arriving at a church. Revealed to be the site where Valentine wants to test drive his radio signal, Harry is there when the trial run gets started. Agitated into attacking others by a frequency sent out over their cell phone sim cards, Harry’s fighting skills are commandeered by the signal into taking the lives of numerous church parishioners.
Somehow, it’s tough to imagine Harry taking much comfort from knowing he wasn’t in control of his body at the time. Harry has to come to terms with what he’s done, but Arnold’s first test wasn’t all that better in the book, where he targeted a wedding party. The one bright spot in that version was that Harry wasn’t involved.
Once Valentine catches onto the Kingsman in the movie, he actively seeks to learn more information about who they are. In the book, big bad Arnold stays unaware that the Kingsman exist, and has London killed before he can realize he’s a spy assigned to unpack the celebrity kidnappings.
London had an affair with Arnold’s girlfriend, Ambrosia, after she expressed an openness to the idea of being one of his informants. Finding them in a hotel room together, Arnold doesn’t hesitate or wait for London to open the door before Gazelle shoots him in the head through the peephole. That he just took out one of the guys threatening to expose his plan doesn't come to Arnold’s attention the way it does Valentine’s, when he kills Harry himself.
It’s worth noting that the Secret Service comic isn’t without a female presence. In fact, plenty of women appear in the background of different scenes, in order to settle the fact that the job title isn’t exclusively for men and that there are women who take up the Kingsman mantle as well.
What Secret Service doesn’t have is a character like Roxy, who can provide a female perspective on what it’s like to participate in training. A serious contender in the running for the job, she’s actually the one who earns it after Eggsy backs out of shooting his pooch as instructed. It still could’ve been a larger role, as Eggsy remains the driving force of the narrative, but at least their friendship wasn't forced to take an out of nowhere romantic turn in the third act, right?
Originally written as a male character in the comic, Gazelle is played by a woman in the movie. Interestingly, this wouldn't be the last time actress Sofia Boutella was cast in a role that was male on the page, as Atomic Blonde would go on to make a similar casting decision.
What’s cool about the movies opening their casting pools in this way is that it prevents films from being bound to a single version of the character. It promotes being open to other options. That way a character can change and develop, and, ultimately, be better off for it. Nobody need let color, gender, or sexual preference dictate who is right for a role. The best person for the job should win the day. Characters are far more fluid than we give them credit for, and in the end, the lead hench(wo)man was quite a bit more memorable as a result of the movie's stylistic changes.
Eggsy’s dad in the book never gets clearly identified, but in the film, he was a spy-in-training, much like Eggsy. Unfortunately, his life was cut short when he selflessly put himself in the way of a grenade blast. Harry and the other spies who were there that day owe their lives to his sacrifice.
Expanding upon the cruelty of this turn of events, Eggsy’s dad’s death is used as proof that Harry is wrong about recruiting spies from different economic backgrounds. The failure of the mission is laid on Eggsy’s dad’s ability to do what the job requires. Basically, they imply that he wasn’t up for the hazards of being a spy, a bold-faced lie when his bravery shows the opposite to be true.
That's right; in the comic, London is Eggsy's uncle, and while this doesn't sound like the most significant change for the film to make, it has a pretty huge impact. They share the same background, so London is an example of a spy who turned his life around after growing up in the same neighborhood. He understands the disillusionment of being made to prove yourself in an industry that’s set to believe you won’t make it.
London opened the door for other young people to follow and is portrayed as a legend in the field, one who doesn’t make mistakes. Harry makes plenty of missteps in the movie and, while he believes in Eggsy’s potential, he doesn't have the shared experiences that make Eggsy and London’s familial relationship in the book so great.
While a new arc of Kingsman comics, "The Red Diamond" from Image, started appearing in stores this month from a different creative team, Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a sequel that outgrows its source material and takes its own path. That includes bringing back one character who seemingly died a permanent death in the book and the movie (and whose announced return in the film's movie trailer ended any chance of it being a surprise...or of it being spoiled).
The Golden Circle is already garnering positive box office numbers despite the mixed reviews the critics are dishing out. Talk of what a third Kingsman movie might look like is starting to be make its way around, and the fact that the film has surpassed the events of the book isn’t standing in the way of its future in the least. Clearly, they're two very different things at this point.
Kingsman: The Golden Circle is in theaters now.