Sunday, February 20, 2011

The King's Speech (2010) ****



Directed by Tom Hooper
Starring Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce and Michael Gambon
Written by Davie Seidler

I’m sure everyone has said “They don’t make them like that anymore!”  after seeing or hearing or reading something great that was from an earlier era.  You’re wrong.  They just did.  I relish in films like this.  I love adult dramas that don’t use special effects, which instead use people, emotions and humans to tell their stories and make scenes with just two people in a room talking riveting.   

I loved this film, if you haven’t noticed.  Colin Firth should and, by all accounts will, win the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Lead Role for this film.  His characterization of the Duke of York (otherwise known as Prince Albert, not in a can) is amazing.  Geoffrey Rush plays  the man who becomes his speech therapist and only friend.  Rush has a great shot at picking up the Oscar for Supporting Actor as well, and although I’d like to see Bale win for The Fighter because Rush already has an Oscar, I don’t think I’ll be upset if he does win over Bale.  He plays his role wonderfully.  He makes what he does look effortless.  Helena Bonham Carter is no slouch either, as the Duchess of York and future Queen Mum.  She is utterly charming in this role, a quality she is not often able to display because of her normally dark, brooding and sometimes evil characters.  She was quietly powerful in every scene she was in. 

The direction deserves some recognition as well.  Tom Hooper has taken this story of a stammerer and made it enthralling.  He does not waste a scene, nor does he over-fill the film.  The picture is about two hours and in less deft hands could have been drawn out to two and a half, easily.  There is a bit more.  These types of films can be made boring by uninspired direction.  Static cameras that make the scene static no matter what is being said, poor lighting that makes the dialogue harder to focus on because nothing is happening, etc.  Hooper and cinematographer Danny Cohen work very hard to make every scene exciting.  They have used the camera in very interesting ways (one scene when Prince Albert is approaching a room of national dignitaries to read his acceptance of the crown is straight out of the Kubrick handbook) to make scenes of two people talking, as I stated above, riveting.  One shot, during a physical exercise early in the treatment, Hooper and editor Tariq Anwar (who also cut American Beauty) use a simple camera push in on a blank wall and a ratty old couch into a time jump.  One exercise is being done on the push in, and a different one on the pull out.  This is actually a cop from Alfred Hitchcock from when he was shooting Rope.  He wanted it to seem as though it was one long take with no interruptions, but the film cans only held eight minutes of film, so he would have the camera go behind a person or a chair or something to blank the screen to change the can and go on filming.  But, cop or not, it’s a magnificent use of the camera and editing to mark the passage of time. 

The film takes place between 1925 and 1939, bookended by two major speeches made by Albert.  The first takes place at the Commonwealth exhibition and the second over the airwaves when Albert, then King George VI, declares war on Germany.  The first speech is a disaster, because Albert stutters horribly.  This leads to his wife Elizabeth (the mother of the current Queen) to look for remedies.  The first ones try the old methods, like marbles in the mouth, and Albert gets very angry and will not continue.  Elizabeth finds Lionel Logue in a basement.  She is referred there by a respected physician, though his methods are unconventional.  Logue does not know who is client is at first, being Australian and Albert being the Duke of York and not in immediate line for the throne.  Logue learns of Albert’s true identity, but does not change any of his methods.  He insists on first names, which to Albert is just not done.  He does not think he’s better than other people, but he is Royalty and commoners do not speak to Royalty in the familiar.  But Logue understands that the speech impediment is more than physical and to get at the root, he needs to know Albert intimately.

While these elocution lessons are transpiring, we learn that the current King, George V, has always preferred Albert (Bertie to family and Logue, the latter despite Albert’s objections) to his older brother and heir to the throne, Edward.  Edward insists he is in love with a woman who is currently twice divorced and in process of getting a third. 

Edward becomes King when his father dies, but abdicates to marry his thrice divorced love (apparently, according to England’s constitution, a divorced person cannot be presented to court, which would make it difficult for her to be Queen) and suddenly Bertie is thrust onto the throne he never wanted.

Logue becomes even more important during the preparation for the coronation and other duties the new King George VI must do.  Bertie and Logue have become very close, to the point of Logue’s being seated in the family box for the coronation. 

This leads to the final speech, when the King declares war on Germany.  King George’s speeches to the British people during the war were a beacon of hope for all those in the empire and this was the first of them.  Logue has decorated a soundproof room for the King so he can be isolated from people, just him and Logue to get him through the speech.  Without Logue, these speeches may never have taken place.  Without the hope they instilled in the people of England during the bombing raids done by the Germans, Britain may have fallen.  We may never know, but it is true that due to this unlikely friendship, England did not loose hope, and neither did her King.

This film is important for many reasons.  It calls attention, and if I may, gives voice to those that seldom have one simply because they cannot get the words out.  Stuttering is a source of frustration and torture for those who suffer from it because they cannot speak as fast as they think and therefore appear to the cruel as stupid.  This causes ridicule and shame.  This film should give hope to those with speech problems.  It shows that you can live with it and do great things despite it.  The film is also important because it shows just what friendship is capable of doing.  Because of this lifelong friendship, as it became, a man was given the confidence to inspire a people.

I read Roger Ebert’s review of this film and wanted to call attention to something, but didn’t want to leave out what got me thinking about it.  Ebert states that this is a unique period piece because it does not focus on the majesty of the period, but focuses on smaller-scope scenes.  This did strike me during the film.  The period detail is great, but because so little of the film takes place outside of a series of rooms, we are not beaten over the head with the fact that the film is not contemporary.  Tom Hooper made wonderful use of very restrictive areas to keep the focus on Albert and Logue, not on the sensational abdication of Edward VIII or of the rising threat from Hitler and Germany.  It is the story of two men and what they work together to accomplish and does not strive to be more than that.  This is a great film.

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