Friday, February 18, 2011

The King's Speech

Netflix sez...
2010 R 118 minutes
Britain's King George VI (Colin Firth) struggles with an embarrassing stutter for years until he seeks help from unorthodox Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) in this biographical drama that chalked up multiple Oscar nods, including Best Picture. Logue's pioneering treatment and unlikely friendship give the royal leader a sense of confidence that serves him and his country well during the dark days of World War II.

The 73rd Virgin sez...
I'm sure the facts are somewhat stylized and compressed, but judging from other documentaries about George VI, this drama seems about right. I was engaged by the script and especially the acting. In close-up after close-up, which usually make me squirm, I couldn't take my eyes off these two fiftyish actors. An extended scene where Bertie slowly reveals the horrors of his childhood while Logue just sits and listens is extraordinarily lifelike rather than mawkish. There is something in Firth's face that is handsome but so unthreatening that he can be watched up close for hours. No tics, no histrionics, just finely calibrated - and I do mean micrometer calibrated - expressions that seem as natural as breathing. Almost any other actor would make me want to back up a few rows. Guy Pearce is also spooky-perfect as the worthless David/Edward. His fussy diction in the abdication speech is dead-on.

The script manages to coyly put Jennifer Ehle, as Logue's wife, and Firth together in one scene. Any BBC/Pride & Prejudice fan would have to be made of stone not to warm to that moment.

There is perhaps a whole other movie in the royal family's gently brave leadership in WWII, but this ends when it has to for time considerations, I suppose - just before all hell breaks loose. Someday, the western world will be an audience that doesn't understand a few seconds of Hitler newsreel footage and a few CGI'd barrage balloons over London as shorthand for the hell of 1939 to 1945, but for now these will do. The wrong audience might be bored or baffled by all this fuss over one speech, but I admire the respect the movie shows for its overall audience by assuming everyone knows how important it was to the empire that its King not be viewed as a fool. A beautiful grown-up movie. 5 out of 5 stars.

Update: Christopher Hitchens comments on the historical accuracy of this "extremely well-made film with a seductive human interest plot, very prettily calculated to appeal to the smarter filmgoer and the latent Anglophile."

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