' ' Cinema Romantico: The King's Speech

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The King's Speech

Early on in this lively historical re-enactment, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), the speech therapist for Bertie, otherwise known as Prince Albert, Duke Of York, future King George VI (Colin Firth), gives a feeble audition for the lead role in a production of Shakespeare's Richard III. This isn't just to get a little laugh, which it does, nor to establish that Logue has his own problems on grand stages much like his prized pupil, though it does, but to underscore the fact that, well, hey, sometimes even if you know the story, like we all do with Richard III, if you could get the right actors in the right roles and cut them loose and the director does his or her job, it can still be a winner.

The story behind "The King's Speech" is known. Even if it's not known you can still sense and predict this story beat by beat by beat. Bertie, Prince Albert, Duke Of York, is set to give the all important closing speech at the British Empire Expedition and he chokes. Oh Lord, how he chokes, and he chokes because he is a man with a serious stammer. So having just seen this establishing sequence we can pretty much reckon all to follow. Bertie, Prince Albert, Duke Of York is going to have get over that stammer and he's going to get over that stammer by going to a speech therapist who's unconventional compared to all the others he has seen and helps him address those past memories he has long since repressed. He is going to have a patient wife whose sole job screenplay wise is to stand by her man. He's a Prince so he's gonna have to become King. And at the end of the third act he's gonna have to give a speech....a big speech....and he's gonna rock that thing like the Gettysburg Address.

Obviously there is a lot more hovering around the edges of this true life tale. There is the death of King George V and there is Bertie, Prince Albert, Duke Of York's much more wayward brother Edward (Guy Pearce) who we see for the first time descending from the sky in a bi-plane, a perfect touch to mirror an earlier moment when Bertie, Prince Albert, Duke Of York says to his daughters, "Oh, to fly away." He wants to fly away but knows he shouldn't and can't. Edward wants to fly away and tries to and does. That is to say there is the whole Edward being heir to the throne but wanting to marry the twice-divorced American socialite Wallis Simpson which will get him kicked off the throne. Oh, there's also a little brou-ha-ha known as WWII looming.

So what director Tom Hooper and his screenwriter do is smartly focus in on the plight of Bertie and Logue with everything else kind of being colored in to enhance his plight of fighting back against that nasty stammer with all he's got. Stories this gargantuan are always best told with a distinct point of view on a specific character because it helps to make the entire ordeal that much more immediate. It's not following this outline that causes so many biopics to fail.

The actors here are all first-rate. Helena Bonham Carter as Bertie's spouse is all quirky steadfastedness and Guy Pearce as Edward is all immature contrariness and Rush is really rather amazing, though subdued, wrangling humor and pathos out of his role. The film, though, clearly belongs to Firth. Let's be honest, this is the sort of role about which actors fantasize in that wonderful place between the click of the light and the start of the dream. He has a stammer and he has a Big Speech. Yet while many actors (you know who they are) would have gone overboard on the technical portion of the stammer, Firth smartly chooses to throw focus on the characterization of Bertie that led to the stammer. He may be a man on the verge of taking the throne of England and while he is clearly good-hearted and well-intentioned, bemoaning his brother's lack of focus in the wake of their father's death, he is also an overgrown child who never acknowledged his past problems, stopped fighting them and now is prone to fits of rage when forced to confront them. He makes a historical figure, so often stuffy and unrelatable on film, entirely genuine. And he earns his way to the film's foregone conclusion. The King's Speech may be one of global implications but onscreen it is essentially One Man Versus A Microphone.

Firth wins. He might just win something else.


Dan said...

I've been hearing a lot of good things about this one, and might even go see it despite there being no robots, spaceships, and explosions (like my usual movie fair).

Thanks for the review

Nick Prigge said...

Woah, woah, woah, I never said there were no spaceships.

Jacob said...

So would you say that the stammer was better after the robots in the space ship abducted the King? Personally i think that is what helped him out, not all that other training. I mean, how could it not be the alien robots?

Nick Prigge said...

Exactly. That's where the film got really interesting - the alien robots crucial assist in beating back the Luftwaffe, a proven fact eliminated from most historical texts. But don't get me started!