December 26, 2010

The Man who would be King

As a young girl, I was fascinated by the abdication crisis that brought England's Prince Albert/Duke of York (and consequently, Queen Elizabeth II), to power. I remembered how the Queen Mother despised Wallis Simpson, blaming her for King George VI's early demise. After seeing The King's Speech, I sympathized even more with the reluctant king.

Bertie (Colin Firth) thinks himself a family man, a naval officer, the spare to Prince Edward's (Guy Pearce) heir, not king material. Used to being made fun of since childhood because of his stammering, he feels ill-prepared for the responsibilities of a prince, much less a king.

Eager to help her husband, Lady Elizabeth/Duchess of York (Helena Bonham Carter) enlists the help of an unconventional speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). Convinced that stuttering is caused by childhood trauma, Lionel also becomes psychologist/psychiatrist/friend to the unwilling patient. Mr. Firth's Pride and Prejudice co-star Jennifer Ehle plays Myrtle, Lionel's wife.

The performances are divine. It is great to see Ms. Bonham Carter in a quiet, subdued role. Michael Gambon is an intimidating, memorable King George V. Timothy Spall plays Winston Churchill. Mr. Rush is masterful as a cheeky commoner (Australian at that) who helps the king find his voice. I believe the two lead actors will get acting nominations. The film should qualify for Best Picture as well. Mr. Firth's Bertie is heartbreaking, regal. He can be haughty, wryly funny, but his sensitive, troubled side wins our hearts. The lead stars have tremendous chemistry; the eloquent screenplay gives us brilliant repartee while pulling at our heartstrings. I wiped off tears many a time; laughing out loud even more times. You will be touched by the unlikely friendship between these two men who couldn't be any more dissimilar.

We all know how it ends, but to see the king's personal triumph was exhilarating and inspiring. This is a perfect underdog-beats-the-odds film. A man loath to lead, eventually guiding his people and country through a terrible war. What could be a better portrait of courage and integrity than that?

Happy Boxing Day!

(photo from filmofilia)


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