Saturday, December 11, 2010

THE KING'S SPEECH. Gather round for Masterpiece Theatre in wide-screen as the stammering King (Colin Firth) is taught by an unauthorized therapist (Geoffrey Rush) to speak like a champ, but only after learning lessons about life and love.

Yeah, I know. This sort of thing gives me gas too. At times, God help me, I was reminded of Monty Python's Bigus Dickus. (Good thing I didn't see it in a theater.) But it's a big-time production and we are given enough quality ingredients to make the guff go down easy.

The Duke, later King, is treated by a charmingly unorthodox Aussie therapist, Lionel Logue, who refuses to call the HRH anything but Bertie ("In here it's better if we were equals"). If you're thinking of Dr. Willis in The Madness of King George, you're not far wrong -- the royal must be brought low before he can rise. But whereas Alan Bennett was not really concerned with democratization, King's Speech writer David Seidler is; there is much talk of this new-fangled radio and the shifting relationship of monarch to masses, and we are made to see that hacking off some of the King's imperial armor is not just a psychological intervention, but also a political one. Before the King can become the man of the hour, he must first become a man. (Also George VI doesn't send Logue away as George III sent Willis. Next stop: socialism!)

It helps enormously that the King's relationship to Logue starts with suspicion and evolves only haltingly; also that the celebrated speech is not the product of a cleansing breakthrough, but of patient, painful work which must be repeated. There's no groveling or crying about Mother. Though there are secrets and confessions, they usually come out with some decorum. (The King does engage in some coprolalia, but I assure you it's in excellent taste.) If we are to have this sort of thing, at least let it be dignified.

Rush is relaxed and funny, but also thoughtful and attentive to his man; he lets the very good dialogue do most of the work, to great effect. Colin Firth as the stammerer has to work harder, but he's up to it. He is never completely healed nor at ease, and we learn to see the strain of everything to him even at relatively victorious moments. It turns out fitting that the regent in the time of World War II turns out to be someone whose glory is to Keep Buggering On.

As is traditional there are many historical figures flitting through the film; my favorite is Michael Gambon as implacable George V, though it's also nice to see Derek Jacobi, who had some success with a speech-impaired ruler once, as the fussy Archbishop of Canterbury.

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