Sunday, February 27, 2011

Movie review: The King's Speech

Without exception, every person with whom I spoke about The King's Speech, directed by Tom Hooper, was unequivocal in praising its merits.  "Inspiring."  "Uplifting."  "Magnificent."  Well, after our viewing on Saturday afternoon, Maty and I both append our names to the roll of the film's admirers.

This flick is the second item in Tom Hooper's curriculum vitae that I've had the pleasure of enjoying.  (He was also the director of the magnificent John Adams mini-series.)  Hats off to him, for his masterful depiction of 1930s England.  The images he chooses, everything from fog-shrouded London cityscapes to crowds of English citizens with worried faces, convey a sense of what surely must have been the prevalent sentiment in the United Kingdom at that time:  a nation at the threshold of a war that, no matter the outcome, will usher in an end to the once-mighty British Empire.

Colin Firth plays Prince Albert, the stammering second son of King George V.  Albert, in many ways, is the embodiment of the English people at that time in history.  He is a man determined to do his duty, but deathly afraid that he may not be up to the task.  Firth's portrayal is so sincere and convincing that the viewing audience suffers with him as he struggles (both figuratively and literally) to perform his duties. 

In his efforts to rise to the occasion, Prince Albert turns to an unconventional speech therapist, Lionel Logue (played by Geoffry Rush).  Logue is a "commoner," and thus completely outside the isolated world of symbolism and impotent ceremony that Prince Albert knows.  Together, the two men struggle, not only to overcome the Prince's speech impediment, but to find the commonality of their existence, the human thread that holds them (and all of us) together.

Both of these actors turn in great performances.  Firth has an especially moving scene in which he describes the genesis of his stammering.  And Rush brings all his charisma to bear in his depiction of an honest family man who has taken a shortcut or two to earn a living.  I also enjoyed Derek Jacobi's role as Archbishop Cosmo Lang.  Jacobi is a natural for that part.

But for my money, the most memorable performance came from Helena Bonham Carter in her role as the Duchess of York.  Carter portrays a strong and courageous woman who has resisted the pampered surrender of a royal life in favor of doing her duty to her husband and her people.

Hooper does a great job of conveying the isolation, the alienation, and the oppressive sense of duty that must surely weigh down on British royals.  If we examine it closely, we can see how those sentiments are in fact what links the royalty to all of humanity.  We all struggle with isolation and alienation.  We all bear the burden of our own duties.  Don't we?

The film is not about victory.  It is about finding the courage and strength to face the trials that will come.  It's about rising to the fight, about defying fear.  Not for yourself, but for those who need to see it in you.

Great flick.

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