Lady Summerisle (strange_complex) wrote,
Lady Summerisle

2. The King's Speech (2010), dir. Tom Hooper

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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Tags: art deco, films, films watched 2011, reviews, the monarchy

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