With the Oscars Awards Night only about a month away, and coming closer and closer with each passing day, I’ve decided to take a more active interest in the Oscar contenders. In the Best Picture Category, I’ve already seen half of the list:
The Social Network
Since The King’s Speech was playing at the AMC multiplex, just three minutes away by car, I decided to add this one to my list of Best Picture contenders that I’ve not only seen, but also reviewed. So without further preamble:
I’m going out on a limb right away – first, Colin Firth seems to be a shoo-in lock for Best Performance by an Actor. Geoffrey Rush could walk away with the Supporting Actor award. The screenplay award – for a script expressly written for a film, is also possible.
As for Best Picture, The King’s Speech appears to be gathering momentum. To be honest, I had reservations about this film, or more accurately, this kind of film, capturing the hearts and minds of the Academy voters.
But that was before seeing the film.
I had expected a dry, historical period film, about a British Monarch with a speech impediment who finds a solution while working with a therapist. I mean that is the plot line boiled down to its essence. What I didn’t expect was the substantial amount of humor between a member of the royal family embodied by Colin Firth as Prince Albert/King George VI, and his therapist/provocateur Lionel Logue, as played by Mr. Rush.
Especially, I wasn’t prepared for the magnificent way these two characters and actors worked off each other. The perfection of pristine timing and the facial expressions by each of them were sublime. Mr Firth’s incredulity, his slow burns, and his exasperation were priceless, and Mr. Rush’s way of slyly pushing the envelope further and further with his insistence that since the therapy was his game, and would occur in his ‘castle’, they would play by his rules – and the prince, king, or whatever would just have to do it his way. Or not. Logue seemed as if he didn’t really care. He really did care but he wasn’t going to show that side initially.
As the story opens we are in the mid 1920’s, ‘Bertie’ – actually he is the Duke of York, or Prince Albert, second in line to become King Of England – fails horribly in giving a speech at Wembley Stadium in London. This isn’t just mere stage fright – after all he is a Prince – no, this is a full bore case of the stammers and stutters. It is worse than embarrassing. His wife, Elizabeth, played marvelously by Helena Bonham Carter, who would later become Queen Mother, was embarrassed for her husband, but she staunchly supported him.
A series of speech therapists were brought in, and all failed. Finally, she finds a speech therapist listed in the text ads in the papers. Logue has a basement practice in Harley Street, a neighborhood not known for anything other than being a home to many medical practitioners, hospitals, clinics, and the like. Posing as a Mrs. Johnson, her Royal Highness sets out for a preliminary consultation with Logue:
Queen Elizabeth: [Using the name “Mrs. Johnson”] My husband’s work involves a great deal of public speaking.
Lionel Logue: Then he should change jobs.
Queen Elizabeth: He can’t.
Lionel Logue: What is he, an indentured servant?
Queen Elizabeth: Something like that.
That’s just one of many laugh out loud interchanges between one or the other of the royals, and Logue. I’m not saying that the film is a comedy, nor am I saying that lines like that were the rule. They are clearly exceptions, but there is enough humor in this film, that we can safely say that the word ‘dry’ would not befit this film. In fact it would be wildly inaccurate and totally wrong.
Simply, Firth’s stammering, at first glance, as Bertie, was an awful situation for him, but he was twice removed from the crown – his father was King George V, and his brother David would become King Edward VIII. While it wasn’t the least bit pleasant for him, he was still only a Prince, who really didn’t mind that his brother would become King; and his public speaking arrangements were fewer than you’d think.
But then later, King George V dies, and then, after King Edward VIII abdicated the throne to marry the twice divorced American, Wallace Simpson, Bertie became the King Of England, the head of the British Empire. At that time, in 1936, he would be the nominal head of state for one fourth of the world’s population as King George VI.
But the times were difficult. Hitler rose to power in Germany. Eventually, war would become inevitable. King George VI was in a difficult situation. As he said,
If I am King, where is my power? Can I declare war? Form a government? Levy a tax? No! And yet I am the seat of all authority because they think that when I speak, I speak for them.
Only the King couldn’t speak publicly.
Despite many comical starts and restarts, it takes a while for Logue and Bertie to get on the same page. History has taught us that England ultimately did declare war on Germany. King George VI did deliver a magnificently rousing speech that rallied not only his countrymen in England, but his British subjects across the length and breadth of the world.
So the film’s structure cannot include the element of suspense. It isn’t about will he or won’t he. Instead it is about Logue and the King working together. it is about their teamwork. And it is about perserverance, drive, and determination.
Said in another way, What makes the film so worthwhile isn’t about where they ended up, why did they get there – or even how did they get there? Instead think about this.
How did this film’s auteurs get us there? Fabulous acting, a smart, intelligent and lively script, and a superb job by Director Tom Hooper in his choices of style and locations, pacing and editing, have made this a truly memorable cinematic experience.
For my readers, first I say this is a wonderful film that I expect will walk off with a fair number of Oscars. Then I say, don’t miss it.