The King’s Speech
The triumph’s of Tom Hooper’s “The King’s Speech” are subtle. The film starts as a quiet and clever comedy about King George VI secretly seeking an Australian speech therapist named Lionel Logue, and, even though based on fact, could be forgiven for feeling like a a cutesy revisionist-history comedy along the lines of the insufferably twee “Shakespeare in Love,” or the portentous “The Last Station.” As the film progresses, though, the historical significance of the titular speech – the one announcing that Britain was to finally engage in WWII – becomes apparent, and the friendship between the king and the therapist becomes strong and palpable.
Despite feeling historically significant, though, I feel the mian strength of the film lies in its ability to stay small and even kind of quaint. The film is, at first, a comedy of manners. It’s about the simple clash of the ultra-blueblood royal and the irascible working-class failed actor Logue. The Important-with-a-capital-“I” feelings are not thrust in our face with spinning headlines or montages; Hooper wisely keeps all of the film’s action between the characters. This is not a film about history. This is a light, quiet comedy about friendship.
It takes clever screenwriting (by David Seidler) to downplay the importance of an historically recognizable character, and still make his accomplishments seem large. The film impeccably grows from a world of personal chaos and world comfort to one of personal resolute triumph in the face of world war. Interwoven is the tale of two men who use conversation, quiet personal confessions, and cute little in-jokes to make sure they both keep their sanity.
It also doesn’t hurt that the actors in this film are all superb. Colin Firth, so good, plays George VI as a timid man, stymied by his familial heritage, third in line for the throne, who has cornered himself into a world of standing off to the side, nurturing his crippling stammer; he stammers so badly that he can barely have a conversation with his children without them looking at him kind of sideways. Firth is one of those hard-working British actors who manages in each of his roles, to find both the outward steely resolve of a character while barely masking intense inner hurt. He is at once awkward and endearing. Gruff and timid. Firth is great.
As Lionel Logue, Geoffrey Rush is equally great, standing as a talkative and unguarded extrovert. He is a man who dreams of acting, but has never had a big break, and alternately annoys and impresses his humble family. He sees helping the King as a great career boon, but he is never seen as an aooprtunist; he is more interested in people than anything, and has a friendly, dire need to help. The professional/personal relationship that forms is a quiet balancing act.
Helena Bonham Carter plays Elizabeth, the Queen Mum as somewhat dowdy, but kind of resolute. What is this recent trend with casting sexy actors and actresses as notoriously unattractive British monarchs? Jonathan Rhys-Meyers playing Henry VIII? Carter as the Queen mum? Will Gemma Atkinson play Queen Victoria next?
“The King’s Speech” is getting a lot of acclaim and many believe it will be nominated for some Academy Awards. This seems odd for a film this small and sedate. I like how quiet and funny it was. I recommend it. I have gushed a little bit about it. It’s not a take-the-world-by-storm kind of film. It’s just a very good one.