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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The King's Speech

I'd been reluctant to see this on the theory that nothing could be more boring than a movie about a stuttering royal, but finally gave in this past weekend.

It was as good as advertised.

Writer David Seidler evoked the humiliation of stuttering as only a former stutterer could.

Colin Firth made the Duke of York -- the future King George VI -- entirely sympathetic, without making him likable. And despite his immense pain, his pathos was restrained. (After delivering the movie's title speech, while waving to the crowd, Firth might as well have just brandished his Oscar right then and there.)

Geoffrey Rush was perfectly cast as the speech therapist, who is essentially the hero of the movie. Nobody would ever accuse Rush of being good-looking, but his face does have a certain ravaged nobility. Of course, it's easier to see him in that light since he was given most of the best lines.

(A movie with a hero must also have a villain; the microphone confronting the Duke served quite nicely in that role.)

Helena Bonham-Carter, as Queen Elizabeth (the mother of the current queen), played sympathetic perfectly. If her portrayal was accurate, the British public's affection for the Queen Mum is understandable.

Guy Pearce, who played Edward, Prince of Wales, has a face tailor-made for foppishness, and Eve Best bears a strong resemblance to Wallis Simpson. Both could have been made to look extremely unsympathetic, but were made only slightly so. 

The only one who really overacted was Timothy Spall, as Churchill. Spall, a jowly character actor whom you may recognize from his turn as the bad courtier in Enchanted, played Churchill almost as if satirizing him. But perhaps he can be excused given that Churchill usually overplayed himself.

The only thing about the movie you could call heavy-handed was its overall gloominess -- there wasn't a single ray of sunshine in the entire film. But you can't even blame the filmmakers for that -- it was shot in London.

To really appreciate how well done the movie was, you have to imagine what would have happened if it had been sponsored by a major Hollywood studio rather than the U.K. Film Council. The Duke of York might have been played by Matthew McConnaughey, who would have practiced his elocution lessons shirtless, and expressed his mental anguish by flexing.

His brother, the future King Edward, might have been played by Jason Statham -- you know, to give the movie that genuine British feel. When Statham mocked him, McConnaughey could have responded with a punch, and the two brothers could then have gone at it with an extended palace-wrecking fight demonstrating their martial arts expertise.

The Helena Bonham Carter role would probably have gone to Angelina Jolie, who would essentially have bribed the Duke out of his stammer with sexual favors. And the camera would undoubtedly have lingered lovingly on Jolie's breasts while she slipped in and out of an overdone British accent.

My only quibble was that the movie was so grimly realistic I didn't really enjoy it. Plus the entire time I was watching the movie I could never escape the feeling that I was supposed to be admiring it, which of course made it even less enjoyable.

In any case, many with higher brow tastes than I enjoy such movies. If you're one of them, and haven't yet, see it.

Those shiny new Oscars will undoubtedly cause it to linger in theaters a while longer.


Anonymous said...

What surprised me was how much I enjoyed it despite knowing in advance how it ends. Geoffrey Rush's performance was particularly winning--he had the best lines as you point out, and he was also a great character, an unsuccessful actor but a proud speech therapist.

John Craig said...

Anonymous --
Yes, he was a great character. I like the way he was so much better than the various therapists and doctors who'd been knighted, a nice little knock on credentialism.