If you’re a fan of Jane Austen, you may be shocked when the future King George VI shouts out words that would make a fishwife blush. Actually if you’re the kind of person that knows what kind of reputation fishwives, you’ll love the King’s Speech. It’s all terribly understated British art film elegance and just the kind of thing to garner plenty of Oscar nominations. I’m afraid however, dear people, that the sun has set on the English empire and the Royals of eighty years ago were just as much a crop of disreputable clods as our current Royals.
A lot of people like this film. I’m not one of them. I’m not much of an Anglophile and I have this funny idea if you’re going to make an art house film you should put a capital A on the Art instead of giving us a mediocre genre flick with lush cinematography. The English countryside should get an Oscar along with Colin Firth and Geoffery Rush. The actors get a lot of wonderfully scripted emoting to ham up and the camera lingers on the scenery like it’s a freshly discovered Merchant-Ivory starlet. It’s just that kind of movie, popcorn viewing for the art house set.
There’s a lot of real history that happened around the events covered in the movie. King George V had a hard job of it keeping the crown on his royal noggin after the first world war. Cousin Nikki, the former Tsar, had been done in by the communists and Cousin Willy, the former Kaiser, was in exile blaming the Jews for his trouble and kissing Hitler’s ass. The heir to the throne was “submissively devoted” to the American divorcee Wallis Simpson and would abdicate the throne. His brother Bertie would become King George VI and oversee the dismantling of the empire while keeping the crown safe for future generations to appear in the tabloids doing royal type things. We get a movie about Bertie’s stammer.
Compare for yourself the actual speech in which King George VI informed his people that England was at war with Germany with Franklin D Roosevelt’s declaration of war. I don’t think you have to be partisan to think that, “A date that will live infamy,” is a much more significant historical event. You can’t help but feel sorry for the King struggling to get the words out listening to the recording but I kept on wondering if anyone was actually listening.
Ty Burr of the Boston Globe states the crux of the problem in his review of the King’s Speech: “The King’s Speech’’ is essentially “Driving Miss Daisy’’ with a royalist veneer, a drama about a friendship that crosses social boundaries as it grows and deepens over the years. Rush’s Logue is the playfully wise truth-teller and Firth’s King George the starchy superior who learns to unbend and validate the little people (and by extension the monarchy itself). Ouch!
Anyway how can you not love the plucky Queen Mum (Helena Bonham Carter) as she goes outside of the royal ghetto to find a middle class speech therapist. Sometimes, it seems half the cast of Harry Potter has escaped, especially when Dumbledore *cough* King George V (Michael Gambon) hacks and wheezes through his last days. I’ve got to say that Eve Best gives a wonderful performance as the dominatrix *cough* divorcee Wallis Simpson. Derek Jacobi ponces about as Archbishop Cosmo Lang and Freya Wilson gives some good PR for our jolly Queen Elizabeth II, corgis and all. All in all, though nothing much is being said. The king is still just a figurehead and not even the blank eyed royal subjects seem interested in his speech even with all the drama included.
I had planned never to see this movie ever and now I feel better than I don’t need to. Well done, Sang!
I saw the film, enjoyed it without mistaking it for significant beyond the struggles of one person.
However, your review is super, and places it solidly in perspective.
This is why criticism matters, as much as the art it discusses.
I want to read your review of “Angels and Insects,” as well as “Shine,” and – suprise – “A Perfect World.”
This is a request.