Thursday, May 19, 2011
Thoughts on The King's Speech
Keith took me to see The King's Speech when the Oscar buzz surrounding the film was a mere murmur in the corners of the blogosphere--on Saint Valentine's Day, to be precise. Being a long-time Colin Firth fan, I couldn't resist another period piece of his, plus the cast list was a virtual Who's Who of British film legends--at the very least, remarkable Pride and Prejudice and Harry Potter reunions: Geoffrey Rush as Lionel (whom my kids know best as Captain Barbosa in the Pirates of the Caribbean films), Helena Bonham-Carter as the Queen Mum (dear Bellatrix in HP), Sir Michael Gambon (Dumbledore in HP), Sir Derek Jacobi as the Archbishop of Canterbury (whom I know best, despite his wonderful Shakespeare portrayals, for his role in one of my favorite modern film noirs, Dead Again with Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson), Anthony Andrews as Prime Minister Baldwin (the Scarlet Pimpernel himself, who played against Jane Seymour in the early 80s), Timothy Spall as Churchill (Wormtail in HP), Jennifer Ehle as Lionel's wife (Elizabeth Bennet in P&P opposite Colin Firth's Darcy), David Bamber as the Theatre Director (Mr. Collins in P&P), and more...I'm sure I'm missing some.
What I really liked about The King's Speech, now that I own it on DVD as my Mother's Day gift from the boybarians, is Colin Firth's incredible performance. It's so multi-layered--he makes Bertie look like a frightened lad one moment, a somewhat arrogant ass the next, and a self-effacing, perhaps even humble man after that...and sometimes all three at the same time. One also sees so clearly the selfishness behind the "romance" that was Edward and Wallis Simpson--her calculation, his besotted selfishness. Edward as king was more concerned with appeasing Mrs. Simpson than he was with running the country, despite Hitler knocking at the door. The scene in the wine cellar between the two brothers is so telling: as Bertie asks David what he has been doing with his time, David flippantly retorts "kinging," then Bertie attempts to find out David's foreign policy decisions about Europe, to which David replies offhandedly, "Herr Hitler will sort it all out," to which Bertie returns, "But who will sort out Herr Hitler?" And just after, when Bertie questions his brother more closely, David accuses Bertie of wanting the crown for himself and then cruelly mocks Bertie's stammering responses.
And the relationship between Bertie and his father isn't much better. After reading the Christmas address on the radio, King George V insists that Bertie try to read it, then becomes impatient almost immediately, barking contradictory advice at Bertie while subtly ridiculing his son, whom he well knows may have to assume the British crown after his death as David lacks the common sense to rule well in that challenging time.
So Bertie's one friend becomes Lionel, a commoner who addresses the future king by his family name, insists upon them being equals, and teaches Bertie so much more than how to work through his stammer. And eventually we discover some of the reasons behind Bertie's speech difficulties: abused by a nurse who favored David, he was not fed properly which caused life-long digestive trouble for him. And then there was the younger brother who died of epilepsy at 13, far from the public eye. So much pressure was placed upon the Royal Family even then...almost as much as now.
So we see the background of the man who became a symbol of national unity in England during the Second World War when he and his wife, Elizabeth, the parents of the current queen, refused to leave London during the months and years of air attacks, earning themselves the trust, respect, and adoration of their subjects.
Funny at times, uncomfortable at others, poignant and praiseworthy, (but with quite a lot of cursing--actually as speech exercises!) The King's Speech well-deserved the Academy Award for Best Picture, and Colin Firth definitely earned the Best Actor Oscar, hands down. It's by far the best film of 2010 in my humble opinion, as well as the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.