Archive for January, 2011

19th January
written by Mad Cow

Rated R for vulgarity (VERY brief – This movie is fine for teens.)

Mad Cow’s Rating:

Colin Firth deservedly won a Golden Globe award for his sensitive and precise depiction of the ordeal of King George VI of England in his attempt to overcome his stammer. Bullied by his father (Michael Gambon) to do radio broadcasts and then facing an unwanted ascent to the throne, he was desperate. When his older brother Edward (Guy Pearce), abdicated the throne in order to marry twice-divorced Wallis Simpson (Eve Best), George was forced to face his demons.

In the spirit of Elizabeth (starring Cate Blanchett), we are presented with an extremely personal story within the fascinating context of British and world history. Director Tom Hooper (who directed the American TV mini- series John Adams) and screenwriter David Seidler, along with a marvelous cast, have created a gem. Anyone who has ever feared public failure and humiliation may be able to identify with Albert’s inner struggle made manifest on the screen. [Note: he began to use the name George when he took the throne.]

Only Albert’s wife, Elizabeth  (Helen Bonham Carter) and the servants display any sympathy for his plight. After other failed efforts, Elizabeth found Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), Australian speech therapist with unusual methods. The story is as much about the relationship between the two men as it is about “curing” Bertie (Albert’s family nickname).

Logue is convinced that they must become friends and that they need to explore Bertie’s life in order to help him. This is unacceptable, not only because Bertie has no friends, but because he is a royal and such a relationship just isn’t how things are done. Their clashes are both fierce and amusing. Logue bets Bertie a shilling that he can recite Shakespeare without error, to which Bertie replies with exasperation that he never carries money!

Everything about Firth’s acting is superb. His movements and facial expressions evoke audience empathy and unanticipated suspense. At the same time, he is not a wimp. He is a king, albeit one of the modern age. His advisors (including the brilliant Derek Jacobi as Archbishop Lang) come unstintingly to his aid and are ever loyal. He knows he must play a crucial role in promoting the morale of the British Empire (a quarter of the earth’s population) in facing up to Hitler. This is his duty, shirked by his brother, but not to be evaded by him.

A failed but still-hopeful actor, Logue fell into the practice of speech therapy because he was
good at it. He knows what he is doing in his displays of arrogance toward his royal patient, but we see his vulnerability, not to mention his family’s non-royal living conditions. Rush’s simple man counterpoint to Firth’s king is tremendously moving.

Screen writer Seidler began stuttering when, at the age of six, he and his family evacuated England at the beginning of the war. He admired George VI tremendously and spent many years researching George’s story. But George’s wife Elizabeth, Queen consort or “Queen Mum,” who died in 2002 at the age of 101, refused to allow the film to be done until after her death. It was too painful a time, she said. Thus Seidler, who has had a respectable but far from star-studded career, fulfilled his dream at a much later age (73) than he expected. He received a standing ovation at the Toronto Film Festival.

Lest you think this movie is all tension, be advised that there is plenty of fun, from the catty remarks about loose Mrs. Simpson to the unexpected encounter between Mrs. Logue and the Queen. It’s fun also to get a more nuanced view of British history. Growing up, I had always heard the story of King Edward and Wallis Simpson as a romantic one. As it turns out, Edward was rather an irresponsible airhead and believed to be a Nazi sympathizer (although the Nazi stuff is kept out of the film).

The women, Elizabeth and Mrs. Logue (Jennifer Ehle) set just the right tone. While their parts are small and peripheral, they could easily have spoiled the mood. Elizabeth is the truly loving wife and also the elegant queen who knows just how to put others at ease. “Will your majesties be staying for dinner?” Mrs. Logue intones, minutes after finding out the identities of these strangers in her home. The exchange is charming. What could have been a too broad comedic moment is instead amusing within the understated context of the film.

Director Tom Hooper is to be congratulated for bringing everything together and rarely skipping a beat. The film can be criticized for the almost cartoonish characterization of Winston Churchill (Timothy Spall) seen walking through the palace beside the king with a cigar in his hand. Likewise, Mrs. Simpson is portrayed as rather more vulgar than she actually looked. But these were small moments among many great ones.

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