February 3, 2011

The King's Speech

February 3, 2011

If you follow movies at all, you surely know by now that “The King’s Speech” received 12 Oscar nominations. They’re well deserved.

On one level, the film is a “bromance” of opposites. Prince Albert (Colin Firth), father of Queen Elizabeth and soon to become George VI, King of England, suffers from a debilitating stammer that court physicians haven’t been able to cure. The future Queen Mum (Helena Bonham Carter) asks speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) to help. Logue is unorthodox, not the least because he’s from Australia. In the end, he wins the future king’s trust and enables him discover the power of his own voice.

The course of their relationship is predictable. Logue insists on treating “Bertie” as an equal. Bertie is appalled by Logue’s techniques, until he realizes how well they work. The two have a falling out but finally reconcile, just as Bertie is about to announce the declaration of war with Germany over the radio.

According to the notes at the end of the picture, the men remained friends for the rest of their lives. Logue assisted Bertie each time he had to make a wartime speech and was made a member of the Royal Victorian Order for his service to the king.

Okay. So far, so good.

The performances of the two “lovers” are what raise this somewhat melodramatic and very familiar plot far above standard Hollywood fare. Firth doesn’t overdo the stammer, to his credit, and Rush plays another in a long line of lovable oddballs. Both are terrific. Their chemistry is, well, heartwarming.

This is a film for people who love words and appreciate how powerful they are. One scene, perhaps my favorite, demonstrates this idea better even than the back-and-forth between Bertie and Logue.

Bertie has just been crowned the King of England. He watches a newsreel of his own coronation. At the end is an extended clip of Hitler addressing an audience of thousands.

Bertie studies him in awe. His daughter Elizabeth asks him what Hitler is saying.

Bertie replies, “I don’t know, but he’s saying it awfully well.”

True, World War I and the treaties that ended it set the stage for the Second World War. But the war was also fueled by an exceptional orator, a man who knew how to move masses of people with phrases and gestures.

I kept thinking about the saying I used to hear when I was a kid: “Sticks and stones with break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

This movie proves that isn’t true. Hitler’s words wiped out an entire race, redrew the map of Europe, and could have changed the entire world, if he'd succeeded. The screenwriter obviously understood that.

So do I.

Against this master orator stands Bertie, a man for whom speaking is a daily struggle. That he overcame his impediment, rooted deeply in the abuses of his childhood, and used the words he was finally able to speak to inspire a nation must be why audiences clapped loudly at the end both times I saw the movie.

No comments:

Post a Comment