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Monday, January 03, 2011  

M. Ovie Reviews: The King's Speech

My ignorance of source material is restored, even though The King's Speech is based on history. I knew that there was a King of England who abdicated earlier in the previous century, and I once saw part of a video of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II some time in the 1950s (at the Tower of London, where else), but I had absolutely no idea what went on in between in terms of who was on the throne. Now I do. It was Colin Firth. Should have known.

The night after seeing True Grit, the last thing I wanted to do was go to another movie whose lead character had trouble making himself understood verbally. But it was literally the last movie currently out that I was still interested in seeing, so I dragged myself out into the cold, dark night. All of six blocks from my house.

As all students of the British Royal Family and this year's crop of Oscar-bait are aware, The King's Speech is about King George VI's struggle with a debilitating stammer, a difficulty made infinitely worse by the advent of radio and widespread expectations that he'd be expected to speak on it. He was terrified that his stutter would make him sound like an idiot. If only he had known the kinds of people who do morning radio shows today, he wouldn't have worried.

The first thing you notice is that this film is apparently funded by the British Lottery, which is somehow appropriate. In fact, this film is such a gamble I can't imagine it ever being made in the U.S. How would a Hollywood studio ever greenlight a movie that is, yes, about royalty, but has a lead character who often takes several minutes to get a sentence out? Kind of a hard sell.

But as you're watching it, it's good to know that since this is after all based on a true story (and one that many of the citizens of this film's home country know, no doubt), one has a certain amount of confidence that one is not being bullshitted too much.

At the same time, you're always hoping for a giant breakthrough, if only to supply some sort of payoff for "Bertie's" travails. But the fact is that if anything, he experiences more setbacks than breakthroughs. The speech therapist played by Geoffrey Rush is no miracle worker (although he more or less claims to be early on); it's all hard work and exercises and practicing and very little magic. The major twist, when it comes, doesn't even involve the King.

Still, the ending is pretty satisfying, all in all. And it's nice to see Helena Bonham Carter in a period costume that for once does not include crazypants.

I wish I could think of more to say about it. Firth is awesome, of course, and I'm sure I'd be even more impressed if I'd ever heard the real George VI speak. There's all the depressing drabness one expects from a movie set in the thirties and forties (thirties and forties Britain, no less), but after a few scenes it's possible to tune some of that out.

Bertie's stammer, however, cannot be tuned out. Don't go expecting to try.

Naturally, there is a typically inspiring ending, and the whole movie does a decent job of explaining why the stakes were so high, even at a time when the monarchy was already in decline. I mean, it all seems frightfully important when you're watching it, but then you go home thinking, George VI, huh? Really?

So that was the last movie I saw in the theater in 2010. A full, comprehensive, crazy-making ranking list will show up here in the next couple of days for you to agree with, disagree with, or not care at all about.

posted by M. Giant 7:35 AM 0 comments


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