Sunday, December 19, 2010

The King's Speech

As some of you already know, I've been nearly desperate to see The King's Speech since before its (extremely limited) open several weeks ago. It has finally come to my local art house theatre, and I took myself to see it this afternoon. I laughed, I cried (as did most of the audience), and I was completely blown away. I am not certain there are enough superlatives to describe this film, but the two that come to mind for me most readily are "extraordinary" and "magnificent".

The King's Speech is a title with a double meaning - it refers to the speech impediment suffered by King George VI of England (previously Prince Albert, known as "Bertie" to his family and, as it turns out, to his speech therapist), and it refers to a particular speech made by the king, dealing with Britain's entry into World War II. Prince Albert was never supposed to be the monarch, really - he was the "spare". His elder brother, David, succeeded their father (George V) to the throne, becoming King Edward VIII. But as many of you know, King Edward VIII abdicated from the throne in order to marry American commoner and double-divorcée Wallis Simpson, thereby changing history.

The role of "Bertie"/King George VI is played by Colin Firth, and it's the best performance I've seen him give (and that is saying something - of course, I still have to see A Single Man). His speech therapist, Australian Lionel Logue, is played by the marvelous Geoffrey Rush, and his wife, Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mum) is played by Helena Bonham Carter. Know how over-the-top and extreme she is as Bellatrix Lestrange? She is the opposite here, and it's an elegant, understated performance that she turns in.

The supporting cast was tremendous - Derek Jacobi as the overbearing Archbishop of Canterbury, Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill, Professor Dumbledore Michael Gambon as King George V, Guy Pearce as King Edward VIII, Jennifer Ehle as Mrs. Logue and (in a cameo) strikeMr. Collins David Bamber as a theatre director (Firth, Ehle and Bamber were in the 1995 BBC production of Pride & Prejudice together).

The movie begins in 1926, when Prince Albert, Duke of York makes a disastrous radio broadcast at the close of the British Empire Exhibition as a result of his stammer. His wife, Elizabeth, finds speech therapists to treat him, eventually turning to Lionel Logue, an Australian with rather unorthodox manners. (For instance, he calls the prince "Bertie" instead of "your royal highness" or "sir", and he encourages him to swear, sing, roll about on the floor, etc.) The movie provides a great deal of insight into the life of King George VI and his upbringing, of course, not all of which is sunshine and roses. The movie has pathos and heart, and the moment when the king bellows "I have a voice!" gave me chills and reduced the man to my left to tears.

If it's open already near you, go see it. If it isn't, by all means go as soon as it is. The movie, the costumes, the sets, the script, the director, the cinematography and the acting are all worthy of superlatives. I predict massive awards falling on the film and its actors, and well-deservedly. It is that good.

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