Friday, December 10, 2010

The King's Speech (2010)

Charming film with all of the excellent actors at their pinnacle.

With these fictionalized biographies, it's hard to guess what's been purely fictionalized and what moments hold a glimmer of truth. If there was anything real in the relationships depicted in this film, I hope it's not the bond between George VI and his speech therapist Lionel Logue, so much as it is the loving marriage to which is paid quiet tribute in all of Helena Bonham Carter's scenes. As Queen Elizabeth, the unconditional support and love she offers Bertie is enviable. The unwavering affection these two share is more romantic than any passion. I hope it existed in life the way its portrayed on screen.

By the time I was born, the Queen Mother was already a kindly dowager. I never cared to look beyond the sweet grandmother she appeared to be in public appearances. However, due to Carter's handling of the role, I want more "Cake" and look forward to learning if she was as determined and delightful as this movie presents her.

Lionel Logue is an Australian speech therapist and failed actor, called upon to help Prince Albert who has been afflicted with stuttering since childhood. As King George the Fifth's health begins to decline, he looks towards his sons (Albert is second in line to the throne and David is first) to play a greater role in the monarchy.

While volumes have been written regarding the selfish (and hidden) motives behind David's inevitable abdication of the throne, I've seldom seen him portrayed as flip and flighty as he appears here. Guy Pearce is ever-skilled, but the role shallow. To give the leads more depth, Pearce's was left to work with a facile depiction of a complicated historic event.

Logue and Bertie, Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, however, were inspiring. Yet, ever since seeing The Miracle Worker as a kid, I've found journeys such as the one they share rather predictable. The haughty defiant pupil, who ultimately gains even more in friendship than he does from the invaluable education he receives. John Brown, Lionel Logue, Anna Leonowens . . . how would the royals ever achieve joy, humanity or enduring success without the guidance of feisty commoners?

However, the fact that George VI's transformation is familiar, does not make it less enjoyable. There were moments that seemed laughably artificial -- such as Guy Pearce's entire performance as King Edward VIII or Logue's suggestion that Bertie use the "F-word". I don't think they actually started calling it that until the 1990s after OJ Simpson's trial made the term "n-word" famous.

Then, there was the needless exposition surrounding Prince John. It was phony to have Bertie explain that his youngest brother suffered from epilepsy and died at the age of 13 when clearly Lionel Logue would have known that already, about the death at least, if not the epilepsy. Indeed, the reason that Logue asks about Johnny is because he knew the kid was dead. So, how very obliging of Bertie to explain that fact to the audience!

Certainly, there are not many psychiatrists who have witnessed the kind of break through that Logue was treated to when, in a single conversation, Bertie illuminates every shadow in his past (mean nanny, domineering father, forced right-handedness to painful leg braces), so that Logue can handily get to the root of his stammering in one fell and simplistic swoop. It would have been better if these factoids had been revealed in more staggered, subtle stages.

Then there's the big dance number -- or dramatic equivalent -- near the end when Bertie discovers that Logue is not a real doctor. After everything the two have forged and accomplished by that point, the threatened fissure seems contrived for Oscar goodness.

Which is not really to say the movie is heavy handed. The characters are rendered with enough deft realism to gloss over any glitches in the script.

My favorite moment was one of the most understated. Logue is at home, glued to the radio with his wife and three sons when it is announced that Britain is at war with Germany. The vast fear that must immobilize the parents of boys (one of military age) in such a moment is fully expressed in just a glance.

Bertie's battle with an obsequious Archbishop is also played with humor that's finer, for its delicacy.

All in all, the King's Speech is a regal offering. I wanted to spend more time with these characters and their real-life counterparts. It left me curious to re-discover all the facts I promptly forgot after finishing my history tests at school (i.e. when did Neville Chamberlain die). Seeing worried citizens gathered around their radios, as nations coalesce to squelch Hitler's rise to power, a universal sense of patriotism swells. We had FDR and this movie suggests that Britain had a man whose stutter was, in the end, inconsequential.

No comments: