Monday, January 31, 2011

Ain't No Good At Speechifyin'

The King's Speech is everything they say it is. I'd still like to see The Social Network or Inception win for Best Picture but now I wouldn't be too upset if this movie from the Emerald Isle was to walk away with Oscar gold. Is England the Emerald Isle? Now I don't think so but it's too late. Time to move on.

I was completely ignorant of this story of the man who started life as Prince Albert and ended it as King George VI until this movie came out. I had no idea that he had to work hard to overcome a serious stammer in order to be an effective monarch at the dawn of the broadcasting age and especially to help rally his people during that war that didn't quite end all wars but it sure as heck did try. Colin Firth plays Albert, the Duke of York and second in line for the throne of Great Britain after his older brother, David (Guy Pearce). This is just fine with him as he has no desire to be king. He's a painfully shy man who's been forced by circumstances of his birth to engage a worldwide empire even though it's a sometimes impossible chore for him to speak. He also finds that even his wish not to be king is in jeopardy due to the very famous affair between his brother and an American divorcee named Wallace Simpson.

The story starts a few years before Albert ascended to the throne when, out of frustration, Albert says the hell with it and decides to give up trying to treat his condition. His wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter who plays this role to perfection) doesn't accept this and seeks out an Australian speech therapist named Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). Logue's methods, developed during World War I while working with shell shocked soldiers, differ from Albert other therapists in that he sees the stammer as a symptom of a deeper psychological condition. That condition is probably his discomfort with the royal life and the demands and expectations of his father, King George V, a man who thought he could simply bully the stammer out of Albert. The Prince doesn't care for that idea nor does he care for Logue. Logue wants to do something that only Albert's family is allowed to do and that is to call him Bertie and he wants Albert to ride a cramped elevator down to his drab office rather than be treated in his luxurious home. Fortunately for Logue, Albert tolerates what is probably partly a sincere belief that this is the way to do it and partly a somewhat common Australian irreverence toward the British monarchy because of immediate evidence that Logue's methods are effective.

This is one of those lovely British films that manages to employ just about every great British actor of the day and, in the case of Rush, one great Australian actor while creating a solid mood and atmosphere that makes you forget that it's 2011 and makes a bygone era seem natural and familiar. I'm not surprised that director Tom Hooper had done this before in the wonderful seven part HBO miniseries about John Adams. I imagined screenwriter David Seidler had significant experience in writing historical dramas and it turns out I was right. For example, he wrote 1999's Come On, Get Happy: The Partridge Family Story. Seriously. I see nothing in his IMDB profile that would make me think, "There's only one guy who could successfully pull off an ambitious drama like this and that's David Seidler," and I wonder if there's some fascinating story behind the writing of this screenplay. Be that as it may, well done sir.

Well done to everyone, in fact. It's a superbly told story with an almost technically perfect balance of drama, humor and atmosphere and it was a pleasure to watch. I now look forward to the sequel in which George VI and Lionel Logue invade Germany and talk Hitler to death.

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