I wasn’t going to review The King’s Speech, the current biopic about how Lionel Logue helped cure George VI‘s stuttering, because I mostly review Australian films. But, I do like a biopic and this film does have some Australian connections. These connections may not be particularly literary but, what the heck, at least one of the connections does relate to language … and so I’ve decided to make the review my first Monday musings of 2011.
Like most who’ve seen this film, I was engaged by it and would happily see it again to further explore its subtleties and nuances. Of course it helps that it stars Colin Firth. Anyone who has played Mr Darcy as well as he did is a friend of mine! And, it stars other actors from that wonderful 1995 miniseries of Pride and prejudice: Jennifer Ehle (Lizzie Bennet then, Myrtle Logue now) and David Bamber (Mr Collins then, a theatrical producer now). In addition, its actors include some Australians, including Geoffrey Rush as Lionel Logue and Guy Pearce as David, the abdicating King Edward VIII. And, let’s not forget the often underappreciated Helena Bonham Carter who plays George VI’s wife (later to become the much beloved Queen Mum). (Did you know that Helena’s distant cousin, Crispin, played Mr Bingley in the Firth-Ehle Pride and prejudice? Oh, the tangled webs!)
Now, I’m no expert in the history of George VI. I knew he was a shy man who did not want the monarchy; I knew he was a very popular monarch; and I was vaguely aware that he had stammered. I knew, however, absolutely nothing about the role an Australian played in the management (cure?) of this stammer. Consequently, I’m not going to comment, as I believe some others have done, on the veracity of the film. It is a biopic after all. Rather, I’ll just mention a couple of issues.
One relates to the fact that it was an Australian who helped George (Bertie to his family). At the time, the 1920s-1940s, Australians were very much seen as the “colonials” and not, really, as people who could teach the Brits anything. In the film this is portrayed pretty clearly through the Archbishop of Canterbury’s (played by another British acting great, Derek Jacobi) disdain for Logue and his lack of formal credentials, despite the successes he had already achieved with Bertie. I was tickled by the subtle way the film conveyed this little part of the history between our two nations. The tension between the two men is not subtle, but this particular subtext is.
The other issue has nothing to do with Australia, but is related to the film’s very effective sound design. First though, let’s talk Colin Firth. Can you imagine being an actor playing someone who can’t speak? What a challenge, but Firth pulls it off. The film is not afraid to let time drag when Bertie/George tries to speak. It lets the clicks and stutters reverberate as he struggles to get a word out . It’s excruciating – and is sustained just to the point at which we feel his pain and that of those around him but are not irritated by it. The score underpinning the movie is pretty spot on too – lovely original music combined with well-known music (particularly by Mozart and Beethoven). But, here’s my issue. I was intrigued by the use of a favourite piece of mine, the first movement of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony, to background the King’s first war-time speech. Beethoven? For a speech about a second war with the Germans? That was to me weird … Was it intended to be ironic in some way? The King’s triumphant speech set against the reality of what was to come?
Whatever, it’s an engaging film which not only tells a specific story about English royalty, but is also about universals: perseverance and hard work (the King’s in overcoming his speech problem), supporting, encouraging and standing by the one you love (his wife), and the value of experience and ingenuity over paper qualifications (Logue).
If you haven’t seen it yet, do … and tell them an Australian sent you!