Today we had plans to go on a literary tour in Hartford, to visit The Mark Twain House & Museum and The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, something that’s been on my list for a long time now. But one thing led to another and we wound up at the local theatre to watch ‘The King’s Speech’ instead.
Set in the early 20th Century, Colin Firth is Albert Frederick Arthur George, the Duke of York, also known as Bertie amongst family and close friends, and later as King George VI. Now, I have always been a fan of Colin Firth, the best Mr Darcy to Jane Austen’s Elizabeth. Portraying the muted anguish of a stuttering royal, we see him suffer and struggle with words and sometimes with the trappings of royalty.
Geoffrey Rush is Lionel Logue, the “peculiar” speech therapist from the Outback and Helena Bonham Carter plays the Duchess of York, and subsequently Queen Elizabeth, lending a helping hand to Firth and Rush from time to time. Her recent roles as the dark, evil and slightly eccentric Bellatrix Lestrange in the Harry Potter movies or as the Queen of Hearts in ‘Alice in Wonderland’ (also evil and eccentric) had me expecting a bit of crazy from her. Call it movie baggage.
In one particularly funny scene towards the end of the movie she calmly instructs “from then on, you can call me Ma’am as in ham, not Ma’am as in palm…” as she helps herself to a cup of tea. But still, she does nothing that borders on the insane or ridiculous. Believe it or not, Tom Hooper’s direction and David Seidler’s screenplay takes on a subject as mundane as speech impediment and turns it into a period piece minus the fluff but with plenty of irreverent humor and underlying tones of seriousness.
Towards the beginning of the film, we see Bertie put marbles (nothing but sterilized for the Duke we are told) in his mouth as part of a treatment by a doctor whose methods are termed “interesting” by the Duchess. Soon after, she sets off down the foggy streets of London to look for Lionel in a shabby office serviced by a creaking claustrophobic elevator. Here’s a bit of dialog which will provide a glimpse into Lionel’s character. He disses the Duke’s previous therapists as idiots. Bertie: “They’ve all been knighted.” Lionel: “Makes it official then.”
When the camera lingers on the dessert plates of Lionel and his wife at dinner, we are given a peek into his life – his boys of contrasting tempers, the placing of silverware on his wife’s plate indicating perfect table manners at the end of a meal and his modest home, whose decor becomes increasingly vibrant as the film progresses. The many perks of assisting His Majesty, I assume.
Movies are supposed to entertain and so we have the slapsticks and the 3D shlock fests, and then we have movies which make us think. I can’t do without either. Obviously, ‘The King’s Speech’ falls into the second category and even with a protagonist with a penchant for long pauses, the film never really pauses to entertain.
The dialog is witty and when delivered by British actors, with the stiff upper-lip and all, there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, sometimes with a hint of iconoclasm. As Bertie’s father, King George V, reminds him that gone are the days when a royal “just had to look good in uniform and not fall off his horse!”