Sunday, January 16, 2011

Reel To Reel: The King's Speech

GOD save the king... and his tongue.

Going Rate: Worth full price.
Starring: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, Timothy Spall, Michael Gambon
Rated: R (but may be okay for children 13 and older)
Red Flags: Two scenes of fleeting, meaningless swearing in the context of speech therapy -- here is a classic example of the MPAA ignoring the context of a film in favor of precedent, meaning the f-word automatically triggers an "R" rating. I would've put this film at PG-13.

If somebody told Prince Albert to visualize the throngs of people before him naked before giving a speech, it didn't work. Neither did the cigarettes. Or the marbles-in-mouth therapy. The future King George VI is facing the prospects of leading his nation through another war with Germany with a mouth fit for Porky Pig. "B-B-Bertie," a sibling once mocked him. Still, inside is this strong and principled monarch, if he can only find his voice.

The King's Speech opens with a heartbreaking contrast that magnifies the problem. Following an introduction by a pitch-perfect BBC announcer, Prince Albert (Firth) gives a stammering address to the 1925 Commonwealth Exhibition. Syllables of butchered words echo back to him over a PA as they float around the world over "wireless." Exasperated by a string of failures to cure him, Princess Elizabeth (Carter) turns to unconventional speech therapist Lionel Logue (Rush). He is not intimidated by His Majesty's rank -- "My castle, my rules" -- and he insists on putting "Bertie" through a battery of physical and linguistic exercises to let the royal words flow freely.

We begin to see that the cause of the prince's impediment isn't some neurological fault. He has lived in the uncomfortable shadow of his Royal Father, King George V (Gambon), now a lion in winter who thinks he can verbally abuse the hesitations out his son: "Out with it!" Albert's older brother Edward (Pearce) is more interested in a twice-divorced commoner than the throne, leaving the younger sibling uneasy about taking charge of a nation before he's ready.

Firth's character relates to us so well because he doesn't carry himself in a regal manner. This is not a person who uses the Royal "We," even though he's surrounded by all the trappings of the Royal Family. I like how this movie submerges us into the life, right down to the colorful footmen who are still wearing long red coats, knee breeches and stockings in 1930's London. Logue is kind of the person whom Albert wants to be, confident and daring. He has the most evident courage of anyone in the film.

The King's Speech is a remarkably inspirational film about overcoming disability, reinforcing the wisdom of great leaders who aren't ashamed to ask for help. It would be a great family film if it weren't for two scenes of therapeutic cussing. I fully expect those to be neatly trimmed when the film makes it to broadcast TV.

As a child, I had trouble with a muffled "th" and a lisp that made my "south" into "thouf." Orthodontics eventually corrected both problems. If only it were that easy for everyone, so that would could give the kind of address King George VI gives to prepare his nation for another world war:

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