Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The King's Speech (2010)

King George VI: If I'm King, where's my power? Can I form a government? Can I levy a tax, declare a war? No! And yet I am the seat of all authority. Why? Because the nation believes that when I speak, I speak for them. But I can't speak. ~from The King's Speech (2010)
 I finally saw The King's Speech, the Academy-award winning film about King George VI's struggle to overcome a debilitating stammer. The perfect follow-up to the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, it  features the famous London landmarks shown in the wedding footage as they were in the 1930's. Although the film is about famous royal figures, the battle to overcome an infirmity is an experience which knows no rank. A troubled childhood can scar the psyche no matter what the social background might be. Likewise, the courage and humility to seek healing confer nobility upon highborn and lowborn alike. In this case, a fragile man of royal birth is aided by the friendship and understanding of a mentor to become the strong and courageous leader he is called upon to be.

With Colin Firth as King George (called "Bertie") and Helena Bonham Carter as Queen Elizabeth (later known to history as the "Queen Mum") one can only expect the acting to be exceptional. However, the performances exceeded my expectations; I felt like I was looking at the real Bertie and Elizabeth, in spite of the fact that there is no resemblance between Firth and George VI. Geoffrey Rush is a delight to watch as Lionel Logue, the Australian eccentric who becomes Bertie's teacher and friend. When his playboy brother King Edward VIII abdicates so he can marry his mistress, the twice divorced Mrs. Wallis Simpson (labeled "that woman" by Elizabeth), Bertie must ascend the throne. His country is on the brink of war with Germany, a war in which the United Kingdom will be compelled to fight for survival. As a constitutional monarch he has few powers but enormous responsibility. In a cogent and emotive speech, George VI rallies and heartens his people as they prepare to be undefeated in the Battle of Britain. He shows that a king, by exceeding all political parties and relying on the grace of God, can reach the heart of a nation in spite of his own human weakness.

Although the film is fraught with humor, it is at it's heart a moving human drama. The deep and abiding spousal love of Bertie and Elizabeth is contrasted with Edward's torrid romantic obsession with Mrs. Simpson. I think Edward (called "David" and played dashingly by Guy Pearce) was more troubled than Bertie. Bertie,  in spite of his stammer, proved himself to have the stronger moral and emotional fiber. Of course, I never thought the Wallis and Edward affair to be in the least romantic. Bertie and Elizabeth are the ones with the real love story; their mutual support and courage enabled them to stay with their people in the hour of darkness.

While The King's Speech is fairly historically accurate as movies go, it was a bit odd to see Winston Churchill wandering in and out of the palace like an old family friend, cigar in hand. I suppose Churchill is the only British politicians most Americans might recognize and whom *most* have long revered. The screenplay and acting draw the viewer in so that even if someone has zero historical knowledge about the characters and events it is easy to identify with them and their trials. We are shown how bitter childhood struggles and  experiences of abuse can be prevailed over through love, grace and determination. King George's sufferings give him the humility and compassion that enable him to stand with his people, to help them and by doing so become a great monarch. Share


J.K. Baltzersen said...

Thank you for this review, madam!

Though I have yet to see this movie, I would like to see it as the first movie in a trilogy. The other movies I would like to see be made are also with one of the characters in this movie, namely King George V.

I would like to see made a movie around the drama of Parliament Act 1911. And I would like see made a movie around the drama of going to war against Germany and Austria-Hungary, including the refusal to provide protection for the Russian Imperial Family and action to protect the Austro-Hungarian Imperial-Royal Family.

I would like to see these movies made in such a way that they present the different perspectives in a balanced way. Of course, I realize that the outlook for either of these movies being made is rather dim.

elena maria vidal said...

I would like to see such films, too, Monsieur B. Have you seen The Fall of Eagles, about all the royal houses during WWI? I am planning to watch it soon.

thetimman said...

Great review. I really liked the movie. I enjoyed your comment about how *most* Americans revered Churchill-- every time he appeared on screen, I would whisper, to my wife's embarrassment, "What a monster!"

Still married...

J.K. Baltzersen said...

No, madam, I haven't seen it, and considering that it would take eleven hours to watch, it is unlikely that I will find time in my schedule for it any time soon.

But anyway, thank you for the tip.


Julygirl said...

Ineresting how you did indeed 'hit the nail on the head' regarding the true love story being that between 'Bertie' and Elizabeth.

Colin Firth so skillfully drew the viewer into his pain that we felt it along with him.

elena maria vidal said...

Timman, only an Irishman would say that! ;-)

I don't know if I have the time either, Monsieur B.!

Thank you, Julygirl! I agree!

R J said...

It's a pity that the makers of The King's Speech felt obliged to portray Churchill as an overt opponent of Edward VIII, whereas of course the truth is quite opposite: Churchill, Lloyd George, and Oswald Mosley were the three most prominent members of the pro-Edward party during the 1936 abdication crisis (a fact that made George VI eager, in 1940, to offer the Prime Ministry to Lord Halifax instead). Other than that, and the statutory four-letter words, I admired the film a good deal.

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, I do not know why we ALWAYS have to have the F-word inflicted upon us. Yes, and Churchill's role was misrepresented as well.

R J said...

I can't remember the exact number of four-letter words which the screenplay of In Bruges had, but some statistician computed that it was something of the order of 130 F-words in (if memory serves me) a 109-minute film. In other words, an F-bomb rate of more than one per minute. When I read this I decided to forgo the pleasures of that cinematic masterpiece.

elena maria vidal said...

It's sad. What a lack of vocabulary.