Film Reviews

THE KING’S SPEECH

By • Dec 18th, 2010 •

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It’s good to be the king. Unless you are Prince Albert. Deserves a nomination for Best Picture and Best Actor for Firth.

You would think “It’s good to be the king.” (Louis XVI* in Mel Brooks’ History of the World, Part 1) But not when it comes to the latter-day English monarchs. While the royals of France loved their privileges, the English monarchs hated serving – even as pampered, obscenely wealthy figureheads. THE KING’S SPEECH is brilliant and strips away the façade of royalty as anything but extreme caste elitists.

THE KING’S SPEECH centers on the dismissed-as-useless “spare” to the English throne, the second son of George V, Prince Albert, called “Bertie” (Colin Firth) by his immediate family. We all know the heir to the throne, the flamboyant bon vivant David (Guy Pearce), gave up the throne to marry Wallis Simpson. Why the playboy prince found Simpson so enthralling is still a freaky mystery.

While THE KING’S SPEECH cannot fathom this mystery, I now know Edward Vlll’s choice of a wife was his way of embarrassing and insulting “The Firm”. He was getting even with his abusive father. According to the film, King George V (Michael Gambon) was a monster of a man and a horrible father. Bertie, ignored by his parents and even his nanny, developed a crippling stammer and was mocked by everyone. Even the King humiliated him.

Compared to his much better-looking older brother, Bertie was knock-kneed and forced to write with his right hand, though he was left-handed. Discarded by everyone, he stammered away his life being moody, arrogant, but supposedly, a good husband to Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), and loving father to his two daughters.

Bertie’s eldest daughter, Elizabeth, would become Queen Elizabeth ll, who is still on the throne. Her idealized childhood did not translate to her own family. Her heir, Prince Charles, suggested in his authorized biography that he had often been an unhappy child, cowed by a forceful father and an uncaring mother! (Hence, after doing his duty and marrying a virgin and supplying a male heir, Prince Charles then married an unsuitable woman, who, unlike Wallis Simpson, will sit on the throne as Queen! He’s continuing the family tradition of inappropriate spouses! And now his son will marry a commoner who has never held a job.)

When David, now King Edward Vll, abdicates, Bertie is thrust into the job as King. He doesn’t want it! He hates his subjects, doesn’t know even one of them, and is still bitter about his stammer. The day before the abdication, Bertie went to London to see his mother, Queen Mary. He wrote in his diary, “When I told her what had happened, I broke down and sobbed like a child.” He was 41 years old.

Now, as King, he must give speeches – and they are very long ones. The speeches have words he is incapable of pronouncing. Who writes a speech for a King who stutters that is nine pages long?

Bertie’s wife is a saint and has sought out a lot of therapists to help Bertie. They all failed miserably. Finally she visits Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) and he has rules that even Bertie must follow. Bertie must come to his office for treatment, they will address each other by their first names, and Bertie must tell Logue family secrets. This is Bertie’s annus horribilis.

Bertie is appalled and horrified by Logue’s casual regard for him. No one except his wife has ever touched Bertie or even stood close to him! Bertie loses his temper and shows his true character. It is not very nice. But Logue is making progress, so Bertie forces himself to follow Logue’s weird unorthodox histrionics. Bertie cannot believe he must actually stand in the same room as a low-class commoner and it shows.

With England entering into war with Germany, Bertie must rally the English people and take to the radio. The rest is history. And, Logue is at the King’s side for the rest of his life.

The relationship between the two men is, of course, the centerpiece of THE KING’S SPEECH. Logue is a substitute father for Bertie. The performances by Firth and Rush are dazzling. Firth is astonishing as he shows the suffering and shame that Bertie faced by his stammer. Both Bertie’s father and brother mimicked his stammer. What a cruelty-filled life.

But when Bertie loses his temper, Firth excels in bringing us into the interior life of the man. Firth is the man to beat for Best Actor this year.

The film, written by David Seidler, is filled with small nuisances and clearly presents the story with emotional depth. Directed with skill by Tom Hooper, he stages scenes which show the claustrophobic panic Bertie felt as he attempts to give a speech. There will be nominations all around.

*An apocryphal quote “L’État, c’est moi” (“I am the State”) has been attributed to Louis XVl.

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