…and the quest to see everything

Albert, the Modern King

I found two brilliant starting points in The King’s Speech, both marking many of the film’s themes without overselling them. The first is the microphone, modernity, technology, what Prince Albert (Colin Firth) must overcome. On the surface, the radio is another way to scrutinize the volatile monarchy, especially with Albert who has a stammer. His father George V would say that the wireless means that they have to ‘invade people’s homes with our voice.’ George’s words also imply that the king’s job now needs interpersonal skills. Connecting with the commoners.

The royal court doesn’t realize that modernity is Albert’s best friend. Speaking to the microphone with his ears covered in headphones, his stammer’s gone. The phonograph is a mirror-like device, making him see his potential. There’s another modern innovation that helps him – psychiatry. His wife Queen Elizabeth (the charming Helena Bonham-Carter) hires a speech instructor, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), who actually asks why he has a stammer instead of yelling at him or making fun of him. That’s what he needs to overcome his impediment and helping him out of being an ‘incompetent’ king, or worse, being self-destructive.

Leading me to Firth’s performance. His Albert has a temper and the things he yells might make him sound like a spoiled brat. He even puts a heart at moments when he can be unsympathetic, like telling Lionel he’s a nobody. Instead he reacts to Lionel and to the other characters like a person constantly prodded, a man with a secret world where he’s funny, personable, a good king.

My second favourite moment is when Lionel walks on the stage to audition for “Richard III.” This shows an improvement on Hooper’s earlier work, where a male friendship has main and supporting roles. Her he has his own failures, which is why they relate to each other. Instead of Albert predictably hilariously talking Lionel’s ear off, Lionel equally reveals his own pathos, thus helping each other to be stronger.

The Richard III audition thematically brings about  the ‘monster’ who wants the spotlight. Like the Shakespearean character, the characters here openly discuss how wrong it feels for Bertie to be kingly. His brother David, or King Edward VIII (Guy Pearce) finds something malicious in his speech therapy and even antagonizes him for it, leading him to regress. Lionel also brings up the possibility, which leads to the most devastating argument they would have in the film. Nonetheless, they know it’s  inevitable and they have to accept him despite his imperfections.

Nonetheless, Bertie’s doubts creep on him. In one of those scenes, he argues that he has no power yet he has to do all this publicity work. The film had to make a stance, either lying to the audience that the king was the most influential, politically powerful figure in the war or stick to self-improvement and make that Bertie’s outlook, no matter the ramifications. That final self-doubt scene adds either ambivalence or ambiguity. I’m picking the latter even if it’s still a minor problem.

Kudos to the acting, hair and make-up because I didn’t realize until the final credits that Michael Gambon plays George V and Timothy Spall plays Churchill, both of whom add subtle performances of a solidly acted, layered and funny film that humanizes the royal figure. While everyone else is quoting Black Swan, I’m quoting this movie. 4.5/5.

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3 responses

  1. Aah, this made me smile. Call me bland, but I still hope this sweeps the awards’ race (or at least the acting categories), though I’ve yet to see it – so my input has zero validity. Looking forward to it anxiously, though.

    December 21, 2010 at 3:58 pm

  2. It’s not much different from other period pieces I have seen, but the performances, and just overall good-hearted tone, make this enjoyable. Good Review!

    January 20, 2011 at 4:34 pm

  3. Team Colin!

    Dan, I think you’re right in a certain way. What’s changed is the audience, who have fresh eyes to see that the friendship between King George and Lionel aren’t so different as the ones they have in their own lives.

    January 20, 2011 at 5:22 pm

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