Sunday, January 23, 2011

Wrapping Up The Holiday Flicks - "The King's Speech"

I think it’s fair to say that “The King’s Speech” qualifies as old-fashioned entertainment. It doesn’t have flashy special-effects; it wasn’t filmed in 3D; it doesn’t feature rapid-fire dialogue being read by the youngest, hottest stars of the day. It’s a period piece set in the mid-20th century, one replete with kings, queens, princes and princesses, prime ministers, and other assorted British royalty.

The movie tells the story of King George VI’s ascension to the throne, but focuses on his lifelong battle to overcome a terrible stammer. When Albert (“Bertie”) is just a prince, it’s not such a huge issue, although it does result in public embarrassment from time to time when the prince is called upon to deliver a public speech or message. But when Bertie’s older brother Edward abdicates the throne, Bertie becomes King George and overnight is thrust into a limelight that he never sought or desired.

The heart of the movie consists of the scenes with Bertie and Lionel Logue, the commoner and would-be actor with a gift (if not necessarily a degree) for speech therapy. Their scenes together are inspiring, uplifting, and at times, downright hilarious. Both actors – Colin Firth as Bertie, and Geoffrey Rush as Lionel – are magnificent in their roles, and it will not come as a shock if they end up competing for the Best Actor Oscar. The film’s other acting is almost as impressive. There are few actors as good at playing dissolute charisma as Guy Pearce, who does a nice turn as King Edward. Helena Bonham-Carter is a loving and supportive queen, Michael Gambon a formidable and intimidating King George V, and Derek Jacobi a fussy but determined Archbishop. It’s an impressive group from top to bottom.

While it may be hard after two decades of tawdry media attention to accept anyone from the British royalty in the role of underdog, that’s exactly how “The King’s Speech” is constructed, and it works perfectly. “King Bertie” comes across as an honorable man, but one who is flawed and human. He understands his duty, is somewhat terrified by it, but is determined to overcome his faults to serve his people and his country as King. He is proud, but not so proud as to prevent Lionel Logue from coming into his life, and not too proud to become his friend.

The movie ends with the speech that gives it its title, and the moment when Lionel looks into the King’s eyes and gives him a few last words of encouragement is one of those perfect movie moments that is destined to go down as one of the greatest in the long history of cinema.

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