Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Kings Speech - Punctuated with moments of brilliance

This is the season of 'The King's Speech'. It has been lauded by critics and movie goers across the world. Just a couple of days back, it came away with the Oscars in a majority of the top categories. I finally got a chance to catch it at my neighborhood movie theatre. Helmed by now Academy award winning director, Tom Hooper, it is based on a screenplay by David Seidler, who had a speech impediment of his own, which he battled through his childhood and adolescent years. During that period his father gave him the example of King George VI, who had a worse stammer and yet managed to overcome it to verbally arouse and lead England through World War II.

This then, is the inspiration behind this spirited movie on speech impediment and how history has shown it to be conquered. The year is 1925 and we see Prince Albert, Duke of York, played with great empathy by Colin Firth, delivering the closing speech at the British Empire exhibition in Wembley. His wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) looks on with great sympathy as Albert, nicknamed Bertie by his family, stammers his way through the lines, to the great discomfort of the public. His wife is on a mission, interviewing speech therapists, even having one try to make Albert speak with a mouthful of marbles, a theory advocated by the ancient greek orator Demosthenes.

In this search, they lands up at the offices of a failed Australian actor turned self proclaimed therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). Hereon we witness an unlikely friendship form between the soon to be king and his speech therapist, see some unorthodox methods of treatment which are quite hilarious and yet probably helpful. We have the movie carry us through a period in England's history when after the death of King George V in 1936, his successor and elder brother  to Albert, Prince Edward ascends the throne only to abdicate it within a year to marry his American lover, twice divorced Wallis Simpson, an act the church would not have allowed a king.

Hence, to Albert's great despair, he inherits the new position as King George VI. It is also a time when Europe is in the midst of a looming crisis, Adolf Hitler, and gearing towards World War II. Bertie's problems, however, are more personal. His struggles with speech impediment at a crucial juncture in history, in his role as head of England, at a time when public address over a microphone or a radio had become a necessary evil. How he, with the great understanding and help of Logue, overcomes this disability to a large extent, and delivers a lauding radio address to the nation on the eve of war with Germany in 1939, is the kings speech.

The performances are noteworthy. Colin Firth, is especially exemplary in inhabiting his character. The timid, unsure Bertie who fears his own voice, is brought to life by Firth. Public address is hard enough for most people. Having to do it with a speech impediment can be quite unimaginable. A perfect foil is provided in Geoffrey Rush's performance of the somewhat eccentric therapist/buddy, who realizes that correcting the problem itself wont work, it's allowing Bertie to find his own voice and gain confidence in it, that is the big picture. Helena Bonham Carter as the ever empathetic wife and faithful companion is extremely convincing.

'The Kings Speech' worked for me in parts. Essentially a feel good movie of a man overcoming his handicap with the help of a teacher/ guide and the friendship that develops in the duration, with the occasional hiccups. Its a textbook example of that genre, nevertheless, extremely well made and well acted with a magnificent climax of the kings address to a nation going to war with Germany. The over six minute speech is perfectly captured in it deliverance by a king who has to be extremely clear in his voice and command and yet to make the speech his own, he sprinkles it sparsely with some of his stammers. Else how could the people be convinced it was actually him on the radio, he informs Logue. A great moment, that!

Little Bertie made fun of because of his stammer, the strict father who fails to understand that being impatient and shouting at his son will only make matters worse, the degradation of confidence, the hurt and anger simmering beneath the surface through the years, all ring true. Having a voice and finding courage in that voice is a problem faced by a vast number of people. How I wished that the movie had delved a little deeper into the possible reasons behind speech impediment and spent more of its screen time with Logue reinstilling the sense of voice in Bertie. All the elements are laid out, a bit of digging might have elevated this movie even further. Nevertheless, an extremely well acted drama on British Royalty and the affirmation that they are just as human as us mere mortals.

Playing in Theaters. Academy award winner 2011 for Best Picture, Best Director, Actor in a Leading Role (Colin Firth) and Best Original Screenplay.

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