Thursday, January 20, 2011

The King's Speech

This is one of those movies where the destination is not as important as the journey. It is based on (not just inspired by) historic events and it is a matter of historic record that the future George VI had a terrible stammer. His first attempt at public speaking was painful for both himself and his audience. A few years later he delivered a moving speech announcing that Britain had declared war on Germany. How did he manage this speech?

That is the point of the movie. It starts with Bertie (as he was known to his family) trying to speak to a soccer tournament. At the time he was the Duke of York and second in line for the throne. It follows an attempt or two at speech therapy before settling on Lionel Logue, an unconventional Australian with controversial methods. The two form an unlikely friendship as Bertie becomes a reluctant king.

The movie is fun on several levels. First, the lead characters are both good-humored as is Elizabeth, the mother of the current monarch.

The various exercises have their own charm. After noticing that Bertie has no trouble swearing, Lionel encourages him in a torrent of F-bombs that give the movie its R rating.

For those interested in the private lives of monarchs, this is a juicy time. George V was a tyrant to his family, insisting that since he feared his father his sons should fear him.

Bertie's brother, Edward VIII, is usually remembered romantically as the king who gave up his thrown for love. This shows him in a different light as a dilettante more concerned with refilling his mistress's champagne glass than doing his duties as king.  (Check his Wikipedia entry for an even darker view).

The movie is very well researched. The few errors that IMDB quotes are trivial things like women's stocking not having seams.

I do have a few quibbles. At the time of the movie, Churchill's party was out of power. I'm not sure that he had the level of access to the King shown.

The other quibble is the reaction to the king's speech at the end. Everyone reacted to the delivery of the speech, not the content. Given that this marked England's entry into World War II, I would expect a more sober response. This is a concession to the format of the movie. It has to have a tidy ending.

Regardless, this should get a bunch of nominations. It's Golden Globe for best actor was well-deserved. Colin Firth did an amazing job of reproducing a stammer.

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