January 15, 2011
I have just reread a review I discovered before seeing The King’s Speech this past Tuesday. With the clarity offered of actually seeing the picture, I can more fully accept what I originally deemed a rather controversial (though truly apt) statement from the critic, Peter Bradshaw. He writes, “The movie is a clever anti-Pygmalion. Where Henry Higgins had to get Eliza Doolittle to smarten up and talk proper, Logue finds his pupil has gone too far in the other direction: Bertie is too constrained, too clenched, too formal and too miserable.” While I never thought about George Bernard Shaw once during the film screening, Bradshaw empirically evaluates the pre-war royal polemic in the correct manner. The movie revolves around the idea of finding comfort in the unnatural, discomfiture of royal authoritative life, a life growing more visible every day and less shrouded in ceremonial rituals and the obscurity offered by wealth and stature. George, having already learned how to speak, eat, and comport himself, must accustom himself to his own feelings, which have been repressed by his duty and his fears. A comparable examination of this topic could be said to be offered by Stephen Frears’ The Queen, in which Helen Mirren as Elizabeth attempts to reconcile traditional behavior and rite with populous opinion. Whereas The Queen displayed a superficial-turned-internal reflection inspired by the Queen’s subjects, The King’s Speech is mainly prompted from personal feelings of insecurity possessed by the would-be-King George.
I enjoyed this film and, especially, Colin Firth’s performance in it. His masterful command of the now-famed stammer endears and infuriates us, which is so elegantly set against his relationship with the therapist-née-linguist, Lionel Logue of Geoffrey Rush. The two have an incredibly intimate chemistry that many rightly have said borders on a sentimental, platonic love affair, particularly if we consider the story arc between the characters. Their dialogue is full of brilliant non-sequiturs, witticisms, and fun, but also produces some of the movie’s most powerful outbursts (from both characters). This relationship, beautiful if often hammily plotted, plays on par with the compelling story played in the backdrop of Firth’s George. A father’s slow death and steady abuse, in addition to a brother’s inconstancy and disregard for his duty, all manipulate George and offer necessary (though often predictable) causes for his speech
neuroses difficulties. It is amusing to think back on a time when we didn’t automatically assume that royals and celebrities had psychoanalysts working with them. And here we have an intriguing look at what may have been.
As briefly mentioned above, I think there are a few weaknesses to the film. But, to show the quality of the film, I should more accurately call them “the things they brushed aside too quickly.” Here’s my wish list on that front. I wish Helena Bonham Carter played a more significant role: she was a quirky character and one whose devotion to George was unwavering, and I would like to know more about her. I wish they would have either cut out the failed actor nonsense of Logue’s character or gone for it more, perhaps even made a stronger attempt at indicting pre-war society for its harassment of colonial (and other liminal) figures. Though I enjoyed the background of George’s immediate family, there was little truly dramatic content there, nothing that tore at the heartstrings enough or adequately. Even the little Elizabeth was there as a mere token, any more so could be perhaps blasphemous. Still, these characters were hardly developed and instead of being just nationally in-jokes, they could have shared what influence these people really had on Firth’s George.
I maintain that I enjoyed this film immensely, and I think Firth rightly could go home with this year’s Best Actor Oscar.