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I saw this on Monday night with ms_siobhan and planet_andy, in a packed-out Cottage Road cinema where we were very lucky to be able to nab our favourite pullman seats with extra leg-room in a special segregated row.

It's definitely good stuff - packed full of cracking performances by our best British talents; nicely scripted with lots of great lines, and very beautifully shot. I particularly liked the rather muted colour-palette which was used throughout, and which I realised towards the end was probably deliberately designed to recall the tones of tinted colour pictures from the period.

At the heart of the drama is the contrast, tension and eventual resolution between a royal personage and a commoner: actually a very old story, which may be found in The Prince and the Pauper or Roman Holiday, for example, and is also the essence of Mrs. Brown. It's a fantastic trope, of course, with all sorts of scope for asking questions about whether royal status is a blessing or curse, and suggesting that most of what makes a king or queen different from anyone else is really just so much illusion and artifice. It's no surprise that it goes down so well, especially in a mature constitutional monarchy like ours.

In this particular film, we see a George VI who is incredibly privileged on the face of it, but gets frustrated at the absence of any real control over his own life, and the conventions and expectations which he has to abide by. We learn about his rather loveless relationship with his father and his unworldly perspective, while of course his stammer is the entirely human failing which brings him down to the level of an awkward school-boy, and makes him need the help of an Ozzie immigrant to do something which most of us find easy.

Unlike the king, the speech-therapist, Lionel Logue, has a loving relationship with his family, and is refreshingly unfazed by authority. It's especially fun to see him challenging and poking fun at the king in the course of their sessions, as he gradually breaks down the icy royal façade to get at the man with the stammer behind it. But the story would feel unbalanced if Logue was entirely perfect. We also learn that he's a failed actor and a rogue practitioner with no real qualifications, and it is mainly him who precipitates the inevitable temporary falling-out in their relationship by trying to steer 'Bertie' (as he still is at that stage) too heavy-handedly towards wanting to take over from his older brother as king.

So that's all very neat, and as I say it's very well done. But it did sometimes feel as though it were doling out the moral lessons about how We Are All The Same Really a bit too heavy-handedly for me. It's not a new idea, and no matter how well it is executed, it can't really qualify as challenging or exciting in this day and age.

Other random notes - I'd hoped for some good-quality Art Deco porn, given the 1930s setting, and was quite excited by the opening scenes in the BBC, which delivered just that. But of course it is in the nature of our royal family to hang around in ageing ancestral homes, so there wasn't actually terribly much in the way of fashionable contemporary architecture for the rest of the film. Also, after being pleasantly surprised to find that I could really believe in Helena Bonham-Carter as the character of Bellatrix LeStrange when I saw her recently in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I was right back to being completely unable to think of her as anyone other than herself in this film. So I guess she needs roles which are really quite caricaturish and mad to escape from that effect.

Finally, if you've seen the film, you'll probably enjoy this archive recording of the climactic speech. I'd heard it before, as most of us probably have, but it does acquire an extra layer of interest and emotional resonance after an insight into the story behind it.

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( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 27th, 2011 10:26 pm (UTC)
Plus filming outdoor scenes in lots of fog or rain hides signs of 21st century quite nicely. It was such a lovely film - I really enjoyed it.
Jan. 27th, 2011 10:27 pm (UTC)
Indeed, it does - and gives an appropriately sombre eve-of-wartime feel to the proceedings. I'm definitely glad we saw it.
Jan. 27th, 2011 10:35 pm (UTC)
I liked the way Edward's nazi leanings were referred to as well.
Jan. 28th, 2011 12:24 pm (UTC)
I was so impressed with the opening bit of the film where Colin Firth is standing still, not moving, not saying a word and yet managing to radiate petrifying fear.

I was acrually quite impressed with HBC in this, for all her personal 'kookiness', she does buttoned down and repressed very well.

And Guy Pearce was brilliant as Edward, a lovely contract between him and George.
Jan. 28th, 2011 12:25 pm (UTC)
Sorry, that should be 'a lovely contrast between him and George'
Jan. 28th, 2011 12:50 pm (UTC)
Yes, I agree about that opening scene, and Guy Pearce. Although obviously I have my own personal moan here about HBC, I did feel everyone in this film got the very best out of their roles. I was very moved by Michael Gambon's portrayal of George V in his final, confused days.
Jan. 28th, 2011 11:04 pm (UTC)
I agree on HBC, I think she turned in a perfectly fine job for the film, which was a star film rather than a starmaking film, but you never forgot that she was HBC for more than a second or two. There were toothmarks on the scenery by the time she encountered Logue yand her makeup, though restrained in the publicity photos, was overdone and actressy in much of the movie, which surely wasn't the norm for well brought up women in the 1920s. I wonder what the movie would have been like with Eve Best as Elizabeth instead of Mrs. Simpson (a fine cameo as it was).

I also thought the little girl they chose for young Elizabeth was all wrong. Everyone knows what Elizabeth looked like as a child, and she always seemed prematurely adult in pictures. It shouldn't have been too hard to find a kid with at least the same shaped face and an air of gravity. Margaret was fine. I was a bit shocked with the way they glossed over Chamberlain and appeasement; seemed Orwellian even though politics wasn't the topic of the movie. On the bonus side, loved the BBC gear and could have spent a lot more time panning around the control room monitoring the feeds to the far corners of the imperial galaxy. (Poor World Service and its cuts this week!)

Jan. 28th, 2011 11:57 pm (UTC)
That's true about Elizabeth looking prematurely adult in her pictures, but I was happy enough with the girl who played her. I guess it's tricky with child actors - it must be hard to get one who comes across as natural on screen and looks right when they're playing a real historical person.

And yes - I was waiting for Chamberlain to make an appearance! I think serious political criticism of the royal family is still a bit of a no-go zone in the British film industry.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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