Wednesday, January 5, 2011

New Release: The King's Speech

The Duke of York would pause for minutes at a time.
I've been slow getting to my reviews of about 8 back-logged movies I've seen recently.  Finished my thesis instead, so I'm sure you'll forgive me.  However, I saw 3 of my top 10 movies last week, so I'd better get cracking.  The one I liked best was The King's Speech.  The story of King George VI of England (Colin Firth) both before and after he ascended the throne.  When his father, George V (Michael Gambon) was alive, George VI was known as "Bertie" and was only the second son and unlikely to be king.  His brother David, who becomes King Edward VIII (Guy Pearce), is a well-groomed, well-spoken, well-educated playboy rich kid who thinks Herr Hitler might have the right idea (about what he doesn't care).  David also is in love with a twice married American woman, Wallace Simpson, whom he refuses to give up once he's king.  This part is a bit tricky for me, not coming from a country with either a Parliament, nor a monarchy, but I think Parliament can just give up and there won't be a government (some sort of no confidence).  Well, Parliament think David is a nincompoop and cannot possibly rule England and fight Hitler.  Thus, David abdicates and our dear Bertie gets to be King. 
Lionel shows HRH that he can be distracted from his stammer by music
This is the overarching history that is being put on screen.  However, the story is about a man and his voice.  Bertie had stammered since childhood.  He was teased about it by his siblings and even his father.  He tried all the therapies he could find, but nothing was working.  Now that he's grown, he has to take on some of the public appearances.  His wife (Helena Bonham Carter - who I would nominate for Best Supporting Actress), seeks out an unconventional speech therapist - Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush - head to head with Christan Bale for Supporting).  Lionel agrees to help "Mr. Johnson", and when he realizes it's the Duke of York, he's barely phased.  His techniques are a little more psychological than physiological and it's hard to reach those levels of a Royal.  Firth objects to the familiarity, but ultimately realizes his techniques and ideas work.  While a rough road, they eventually become friends. 
The performances and writing of this story raise it above the standard British historical drama.  The details about speech impediments as well as the etiquette about dealing with Royals adds a level of explanation that never reaches exposition but rather is revealed in the interactions between the characters and the practice Firth does of all his techniques.  An example is when Logue asks HRH whether he stutters when he talks to himself, or whether he can curse a blue streak without stammering.  Having the story within such a strong historical context of the lead-up to WWII makes all the implications of the Royal decisions even more understandable and important.  It might seem overly dramatic to say that the fate of the world was caught up in the romantic liaison of spoiled Prince, but this movie makes it clear that in fact it just might have been.  Watching Firth wrestle with everything he was raised to believe about himself and his place in the world fall to pieces when he becomes King and what that will actually mean is heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time.  The title, "The King's Speech" is a reference both to George VI's ability to speak as well as to the actual speech he gave on the eve of WWII to rally the support of his subject.  It gives me goosebumps just thinking about how hard it was for him and how important it turned out to be.   I loved this movie and everything about it.  I'm sure I'll figure out things that weren't great, but for now I'll leave it here.  5/5 stars/lambs


The Mad Hatter said...

Not a critique on the film itself, but one about the marketing: This is a film I wish I'd seen blind.

I also enjoyed how the title is a play on the term 'The King's English'...since it takes a term that usually applies to the most well-spoken and alludes to how hard that actually becomes for this monarch.

Perhaps the subtlest touch I enjoyed the most, was when Queen Elizabeth politely turns down the dinner invitation by Mrs. Loag. It's that gentle way of say "Yes, we may be equals in your office - but if you think monarchs are about to sit down and dine at a commoner's table you're off your nut".

Great review of a great film - keep 'em coming.

Jess said...

Hatter - I hadn't noticed "The King's English" before - good catch. I am loving this movie even more a few days later.