December 24, 2010, - 1:25 pm
There have been few great–or even just good–movies, this year. But the ones that are great are truly great. And that’s definitely the case with “The King’s Speech.” I just loved this movie, and it’s one of the few to which I’ve ever given FOUR REAGANS PLUS. It’s that good. The movie is a great contrast between the waste-of-space English royal family of today and their recent ancestors, who were figures of decency and selfless defense of the West.
Don’t let the “R” rating on this movie fool you. You can take your young teens–and I’d even take young kids–to see it. The “R” is for one scene (well, maybe, one-and-a-half scenes) in which the King of England, magnificently played by Colin Firth, repeatedly swears and utters the t-word. It’s all because the King stutters, and he’s engaged in all kinds of exercises to try to overcome it.
And that’s the premise of the movie: that King George VI of England must overcome his deep stutter to rally the people of the United Kingdom together against the Nazis in World War II. But the movie is much more than that. It’s the story of a blue-blood royal and his friendship with a classy but poor commoner, a speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush) who helps him overcome it. And it’s about overcoming obstacles for the good of the world, for noble reasons. It’s about facing handicaps and challenges to do what’s right. Also not far from the forefront is the underlying story of the abdication of the throne by George VI’s brother, King Edward VIII (Guy Pearce, who trades his Australian accent in for a British one, here).
The movie begins with King George as a mere prince, Prince Albert. His father is King of England, and he isn’t the favored son. The favored son is his older brother, Prince Edward, who is set to become King. Albert a/k/a “Bertie” makes a speech at Wembley Stadium, or at least, he tries. But his stutter and lack of confidence are so great, he just can’t do it. It’s a shame, an embarrassment. His wife, Princess Elizabeth, is embarrassed for him, as are all of Britain’s citizens, listening to the screw-up on live radio in their living rooms.
So, Elizabeth, has a solution. She takes her Prince to various doctors to help him overcome his stutter. None of their quackery–including speaking with rocks in his mouth–works. Desperate to help her husband overcome his embarrassment, as it even gets in the way of bedtime stories for the kids (who include the future Queen Elizabeth of the present day), Elizabeth approaches an unorthodox speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Rush), whose methods are neither conventional nor accepted. And Logue, to his credit, doesn’t compromise his technique for royalty. He refuses to change his methods in any way.
Soon, the Prince is attending the regular sessions, undercover and posing as a commoner, at Logue’s shabby office. He finds them frustrating. There are fights, there are break-ups, and there are re-unifications between the Prince and his working-class speech therapist. And there is a budding friendship, the bounds and struggles of which are well defined and portrayed in a terrific manner in this movie. It’s really about the kinship of men in spite of class and other differences, something few movies capture as well as this one.
As we know because of history, King Edward VIII is a playboy who takes up with a divorced American socialite, Wallis Simpson, and gives up the throne to be with her. So, it’s hardly a spoiler to say this is a prominent, underlying sub-plot to the movie. Without that happening, there would be no story here. But because it did happen, Prince Albert and Princess Elizabeth become King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (I don’t know which number comes after her name and it’s not relevant to me). And that’s the story here.
A man who isn’t typically confident, who stutters still, is now King of England, and he still must overcome his disability. The Nazis have marched forward throughout Europe. Winston Churchill–one of the best Churchills I’ve ever seen, Timothy Spall–is now Prime Minister. And Britain, as part of the Allies, must respond to the Nazis, not just with air strikes and ground war, but with the psychological national unity and solidarity of the people of the United Kingdom. It is up to King George/”Bertie” to “marshal the troops” in speeches, live speeches on the air. Can he overcome his speech impediment and do it? Will he be able to sort out the class divisions that result in his contentious arguments with Logue? The resolve of the people of Great Britain against the Nazis depends on it.
It’s such a terrific history lesson and basis for discussion and learning for yourself and your whole family, occasional, brief swear words aside. And, as I said, it’s not just about history, but about relationships, about male kinship, and about sacrifice for your country and its survival. It’s about stepping up the role G-d has given you, the one for which you’ve been called.
If there’s one thing I didn’t like about this movie, it’s the scene of King George VI crying in despair about his stutter. I really didn’t need to see a grown man–let alone a moral leader for the West–shedding tears like a girlie-man. And I wonder whether there’s any real-life documentation of him ever crying. I’d bet against it.
Still, despite that, while watching this movie, you can’t help but contrast the bravery and class, the dignity and poise, of King George VI of England, the protagonist of the movie and his wife, Queen Elizabeth, with the sleaziness of their real-life Islamo-pandering grandson, Prince Charles, who famously wished to be Camilla Parker Bowles’ tampon. It’s amazing how far a great family can fall in just two generations. Moreover, King George VI’s importance in supporting the West’s efforts in World War II contrasts greatly with all the current hype surrounding Prince Williams’ marriage to Kate Middleton. Their “accomplishments” in helping the West, in contrast, are confined to keeping the cross-continental staffs of OK, People, and US Magazines employed.
Yet all of these modern-day royals have giant staffs, retinues, and entourages, something this movie makes clear simply wasn’t the case for the modest-but-far-greater figures of that day. And, notably, in this movie, Firth as King George VI makes clear that as a King, he has no power and is merely a figurehead. He understands his importance as the occupant of the bully pulpit seizing the moral high ground at a time when it is necessary. But he humbly understates his importance. That’s in sharp contrast to today’s British royals who really do confine themselves to figurehead positions, thankfully so. Yet, they exaggerate their importance, when they are basically just partying ignoramuses on British national welfare (albeit with a far larger welfare check than the rest of Brits on welfare).
Not only is this an enjoyable and entertaining movie, it’s funny. It’s got a lot of that great British dry humor. And it has great acting all around, which is why, as a member of the Detroit Film Critics Society, I voted for Firth, Bonham Carter, and Rush for my choices as this year’s top actors and picked this movie as the year’s best. It’s a truly great ensemble cast, a terrific script, and everything else about it is top notch–from cinematography to costumes.
Even though this year was plagued by a sub-mediocre “selection” of films, this one would be tops in any year. Take yourself and your family to see it and enjoy what it was like when royalty was truly great and men truly rose to the occasion with courage and fortitude. The ending brought a tear to my eye. It’s that good a movie.
FOUR REAGANS PLUS
Watch the trailer . . .
Tags: Allies, Bertie, Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Guy Pearce, Helena Bonham Carter, King Edward VIII, King George VI, King's Speech, movie, movie review, Movie Reviews, Nazis, Prince Albert, Queen Elizabeeth, The King's Speech, Timothy Spall, Wallis Simpson, Winston Churchill, World War II