The King's Speech

Friday, January 7, 2011

The King’s Speech

They give breath to the pages of history, they wander the fictional world. Within their numbers stands a shepherd boy who rose to slay a giant armed with nothing save a slingshot. A young man who firmly stared down a tank in the heat of Tiananmen Square. From Jacqueline Kennedy, who, on the blackest day of her life, controlled the blind wrath of a grieving nation with her exquisite dignity and strength, to the dozens of firemen who ran up the towers when the rest of the world ran down. They are celebrated in literature - think of Atticus Finch, or Charlotte, the grey spider, or perhaps the tiny hobbit, Frodo, who volunteered to go to all the way to the hell of Mordor though, “he did not know the way”. They are the heroes, the ones who accept the impossible challenge, not for glory nor renown, but because it is the right thing to do, because it has to be done. There are more of them than we realize, invisible and unsung, scaling incredible mountains, overcoming the most vicious odds.

I confess I knew more about his infamous brother than I knew about King George VI. Oh, I knew he was the father of the current Queen Elizabeth, the husband of the much-loved Queen Mother, and that his own mother, Queen Mary, wore an inordinate amount of long, wide-reaching pearls, as well as a rather sour expression, in most of her photographs. I knew that he and his wife braved the London blitz with admirable bravery. And perhaps I had heard that he once had a stammer, though I’d never given the matter great thought. But thanks to the genius of the actor, Colin Firth, I now see the former King in a much different light.

Accolades are swarming like honeybees around the new film, The King’s Speech, as well they should be. A near perfect film, its material is taken from the diaries of Lionel Logue, the unconventional speech therapist who treated the King for many years, assisting in his ability to rise above his debilitating stammer and lead his nation through a monstrous war. Bertie, as the King was known, was never meant to be King. Never wanted to be King. But when his elder brother threw off the mantle of duty like an itchy wool coat, Bertie, who couldn’t utter a sentence in public without acute embarrassment, became King. And not only a King, but a King in a time of war. Imagine being a man with a stammer and having to compete on the international stage with raging orators like Mussolini and Hitler. Imagine a country holding on to your every word, for comfort and guidance in a horrible time, and you are unable to trust your own voice. I wonder if I would have run far far away, changed my name, my appearance, and hid for the rest of my natural born days. It is a weighty testament to the man’s integrity and strength of character that he did not.

I highly recommend The King’s Speech for those of you who wish for something more than eye candy from a movie going experience. There are no car chases, no blue aliens, and not a teenage vampire in sight, but you shall leave with ideas to ponder, history to discuss, and a great man to admire. Go see it and tell me if you don’t agree.
Oh, and Helena Bonham-Carter is a revelation in this performance! Just wonderful. And the peeling plaster walls of Mr. Logue’s offices! Perfectly sublime. How I would love to get my greedy little hands on those rooms!!