Produced in Australia by the Sydney based independent production company Crackerjack Productions for TV1 and the Nine Network, The King was first shown on 20 May 2007 on TV1 for Foxtel and Austar and became the highest rating drama ever screened on subscription television in Australia, drawing 511,000 viewers. It later aired on the Nine Network on 27 August 2007.
The film faced criticism from some of those close to Kennedy who felt it did not portray him accurately, feeling that he was portrayed too broadly in a dark manner in the film, as well as what one commentator noted was a "mad rush to out him, sexually".
The screenplay was written by Jaime Browne and Kris Mrksa; the director was Matthew Saville and the producer was Jason Stephens. Filming began on 6 December 2006 with a A$2.1 million budget and a 20-day shooting schedule. The ABC's Ripponlea studios were utilised to film the scenes for sequences involving Kennedy's roles on In Melbourne Tonight and Blankety Blanks.
Stephen Curry (who plays the role of Graham Kennedy) lost 14 kilograms to portray the young Kennedy, and then regained the weight in two weeks over Christmas 2006 to play the older Kennedy.Stephen Curry (Graham Kennedy)
Stephen Hall (Bert Newton)
Shaun Micallef (Colin Bednall)
Monica Maughan (Nan)
Jane Allsop (Noeline Brown)
Angus Sampson (Ugly Dave Gray)
Steve Bisley (Harry M. Miller)
Leo Taylor (Sir Frank Packer)
Beau Brady (Tim)
Bernard Curry (John Wesley)
Kodi Smit-McPhee (Young John Wesley)
Beth Buchanan (Val Wesley)
Garry McDonald (Nicky Whitta)
Roz Hammond (Kathleen Whitta)
Kate Doherty (Panda)
A Herald Sun article published on 28 November 2006 headed "Pals protect mate" reported that Kennedy's friends Bert Newton, Noeline Brown and her husband TV writer Tony Sattler were "refusing to help producers of a telemovie about his life."
The article stated that "Bert Newton knocked back an approach to work on The King, telling industry sources Kennedy would not have approved of his story being told" and quoted Sattler as saying "He was never himself, always playing the character called Graham Kennedy, so I don't know how they'd find someone who could manage to play the part." It also stated "The movie is not linked with [the] controversial book "The King & I", launched in the prior month by Kennedy's former lover, Rob Astbury."
Kennedy's biographer Graeme Blundell wrote in The Australian:
Stephen Curry gets most of this right in his compelling portrayal of the sphinx-like and teasingly evasive television comedian [...]
He is so very, very good his career may never recover. The "Weren't you Graham Kennedy?" syndrome will likely pursue him every time he tries to buy groceries. As it did the King [...]
Curry is terrific and, although instantly recognisable as the oyster-eyed performer, doesn't impersonate him (though he says he tested prosthetic eyes) so much as inhabit him [...]
Close friends Tony Sattler and Noeline Brown were reported as saying:
"The film was obsessed with his homosexuality. I don't think people cared about that" [...] "If people had said, 'I'm not going to watch a poof on TV', then he'd never have rated. "He was Australia's most famous, successful entertainer but how much do we see of that in the film? We see f--- all of it."
Brown was also reported as saying:
"I thought it was very bleak and it was a portrait of somebody not very like the Graham Kennedy I knew for many years."
And Tony Sattler said:
"The bitter and twisted figure portrayed by Stephen Curry is not the Graham Kennedy that I knew."
Kennedy's colleague Bert Newton was interviewed by Tracy Grimshaw in an item which went to air on A Current Affair on the night of the Channel 9 screening of the The King:
Tracy Grimshaw: Do you think that you might watch the movie, when it goes to air on Nine?
Bert Newton: Chances are I will, because I wouldn't like anyone to think that I've got some sort of vendetta against this movie ... I know that Graham would not have wanted a movie to be made about his life.[...]
Tracy Grimshaw: The intensely private King of Australian television had made his feelings perfectly clear: he didn't want his story told.[...]
Tracy Grimshaw: This movie paints him quite dark. Was there a prominently dark side to him?
Bert Newton: Well, I guess everyone's got a dark side, I'm trying to think of what his dark side would be. I suppose it might be that ... well I really can't come up with one.
Tracy Grimshaw: Sort of sad and tortured would be the impression I get from him from watching the movie -
Bert Newton: No, I've never seen him tortured, I've (laughing) -
Tracy Grimshaw: (laughing) Not physically ...[...]
Tracy Grimshaw: It seems that since he's died there's been this mad rush to out him, sexually.
Bert Newton: Yes. I don't know why, and you know in the twenty-first century that's (not) all that important. I would think that from a sexuality point of view, when he began in television, that would be a problem, because it was a different world then. I mean back then, if someone didn't marry well they must be ... you know.
At the 2007 Australian Film Institute Awards The King won the award for Best Telefeature or Miniseries. Curry also picked up the award for Best Lead Actor in a Television Drama and Saville for Best Direction in Television.