Sunday, January 16, 2011

Review: The King's Speech

At first glance, The King's Speech doesn't appear to have a particularly compelling plot. I mean, a film about how King George VI's stammer was cured by Lionel Logue shouldn't make for all that interesting a film. But it does. Colin Firth turns in an incredible performance as the anxious, stressed, kind and considerate The Prince Albert, Duke of York (known as 'Bertie' to his family) burdened by a sense of duty and propriety. And Geoffrey Rush is more than up to the task as Lionel Logue, the rather irreverent commoner Australian speech therapist. Helena Bonham Carter, in a rather conventional role for once, is great as the supportive, loving Duchess and later Queen Elizabeth. It's great acting all round, and the scenes with just Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush are a joy to watch.

The best scene in terms of conveying just how pressuring and frightening it was for the future king appears in the beginning, when, as he stands to give a speech at Wembley, we see everything from his viewpoint: the thousands of people standing up to turn to face him, the menacing red light indicating that the microphone has been switched on and we feel the pain and panic and fear that go through his mind as he struggles to get even a single word out. It's so painful, it almost hurts physically. I imagine everyone who's ever had to do public speaking knows just how bad it can get (my legs physically shake), but this feels a million times worse.

After that, a picture is gradually painted of the reluctant monarch: how shy he is, how strongly he feels about the duties of the royal family, how much he loves his family, the futility he feels that comes of being born into his station, and how aware he is of his lack of knowledge of the common man.

And, of course, this stands in stark contrast with his brother Prince David (King Edward VIII), a man who comes across as so incredibly foppish and feckless that I find it hard to believe the two are related, much less brothers. As someone who is sometimes way too responsible, I find it appalling that someone could abandon his professional duties - that of ruling England at a time a war is looming - all because of love. I checked Wikipedia after watching the film just to check whether King Edward VIII had been demonised, but, to be hones, it seems he really was that irresponsible. For shame!

In any case, this movie isn't really about the monarchy. It's more a story of a man, thrust unwillingly into a position of power, keenly aware of his responsibility for keeping the spirits of his people up at a time of crisis, and how his friend helped him to gain the strength in order to do so. It's an incredibly inspiring story, one which, if I may relate this to myself, makes me believe that if that man, as alone as he felt, with fears and phobias far worse than mine, could do it, then so can I.

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