Thursday, January 6, 2011

The King's Speech

I went to see The King’s Speech this afternoon and loved it. It was just utterly beautiful.

The story, on the surface of it, is very simple. Albert (called Bertie), second son of King George V, a man destined to lead a public life in an age where radio was the new phenomenon, has a serious speech impediment. He has struggled with it all his life, but now, as the country moves through the tumultuous 1930s, he needs his voice. His wife finds a speech therapist for him, Lionel Logue, who will try to help him in spite of himself.

The true and complete joy of this movie, however, is the characters and the actors who play them. Every single character on the screen was a real person. They were complicated and three-dimensional. They were human. And they brought their humanness to these huge historic events in a way that made them understandable. And your heart broke for them, and soared with them.

And Geoffrey Rush and Colin Firth were both outstanding. Outstanding. For Colin Firth, it was not only the replication of the physical disability, but the frustration, the fear, the humiliation, the anger, and the very kind and honourable man underneath. And Geoffrey Rush brought his immeasurable skill to creating the one ‘everyday’ man among all these giants. A man who could stand up to kings.

I don’t want to get into the whole Oscar thing, but if they should win, it would be immensely well-deserved.

Helena Bonham Carter, playing Bertie’s wife, was also excellent. The friend who went with me to the movies commented that it was nice to see her be not-crazy, for once. Hers was a very delicate performance here, creating a strong and complex woman. And her relationship with her husband was just perfect.

The supporting characters were equally wonderful. The two little girls playing Elizabeth and Margaret were very good, and nothing about them was overly precocious. The same goes for the boys playing Logue’s sons.

Jennifer Ehle, who last starred with Colin Firth in the BBC Pride and Prejudice, played Logue’s wife in The King’s Speech. It took me a minute to recognise her, but she is always a delight.

And Guy Pearce as David was a little bit mind-blowing. I saw Priscilla: Queen of the Desert again only a couple of days ago, and it took my brain a minute to stop screaming “It’s Felicia!”

The cast is rounded out with such British powerhouses as Michael Gambon, Derek Jacobi and Timothy Spall, among others.

One of the things that fascinated me most was the shorthand that the movie was able to use. The script spent no time, at all, educating the audience about the war or the politics or the consequences. It was all about the characters and their reactions to the immediate struggles in their lives. So, if you don’t know anything about World War II, you would still be able to follow the movie and appreciate it.

But the more you know about what’s coming, the more the movie expands, the more it becomes epic, and desperate, and tragic. And a shot of three young men sitting in the parlour with their mother goes from being just another piece in a montage to being unbearably sad.

And the most beautiful moments were so subtle, so deftly done. The characters were so complete, so real, that the slight change of expression on a mother’s face had such a world of meaning. And, understanding that what I’m about to say has nothing to do with historical accuracy, the movie made it feel real. It made me feel like I really understood what it felt like to be there. Like I went through it with them. The sign of an excellent film.

That said, this movie is not for everyone. It falls into the general category of stodgy British costume drama, and it was decidedly more about the characters than the plot. If you’re not big on anything that doesn’t contain giant killer robots? This movie is not for you.

If you do like a really good drama, though? Definitely check this one out. It’s a thing of beauty.



  1. Colin Firth is a joy to watch, and until now a British "best-kept secret." Since the BBC "Pride and Prejudice of 1995, I've wondered how long it would take the rest of the world to discover what diehard fans of P&P already knew: that Colin Firth is a rare treasure. In P&P he says more with his eyes than in his lines of dialogue, a gft that follows him to "The King's Speech." What a joy to watch someone whose face alone call tell the story.

  2. I adore that man. And there is no other Mr. Darcy. He was just perfect. There's so much of his stuff I haven't seen yet, but he breaks my heart in Nanny McPhee and is just adorable in Love Actually. He is raather deliciously pompous in Shakespeare in Love. And The English Patient is one of my favourite films. The Brits really know how to train their film actors. There's a whole host of them who are immensely talented and among my favourite actors.