Monday, February 14, 2011

The King's Speech: A Royal Pleasure

Somewhat reluctantly I finally watched The King's Speech*. This initial reluctance originated with the buzz that I had heard about some of the historical inaccuracies in the film. But given that I'm a fan of historical period pieces and that the critical reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, I decided to take the plunge. And, wow, thank the Most High that I did. It is quite nearly a perfect film as well as easily the best of the Best Picture nominees that I've seen thus far.

For those who are not familiar with the movie it is about King George VI's (King of England during WWII and the father of the current reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth II) struggle with a severe speech impediment and the somewhat unorthodox methods that speech therapist Lionel Logue (played by Geoffrey Rush) implements in order to help the King. Other notable actors in the film include Helena Bonham Carter as Queen Elizabeth. Now before this film I had never particularly cared for Helena Bonham Carter believing that she was getting work principally because she is Tim Burton's wife. However, she was great in this film with the result that my opinion of her acting abilities has changed significantly for the better. Also, Guy Pearce who hasn't been in too many films of late played Edward VIII and also did quite well. But it was of course Colin Firth's portrayal of King George VI which was the most remarkable and deservedly worthy of the Oscar nomination that he has received for the role.

As for the historical inaccuracies they are there. However, they aren't as pronounced as I was led to believe. Mostly they have to do with the presentation of Winston Churchill (played by Timothy Spall) as having supported the abdication of Edward VIII (coerced out because he wanted to marry a woman who was about to be divorced for the second time; something that would have been too scandalous of an affair for the King of England since he was also head of the Anglican church; here for more) when he in fact resolutely advised Edward to remain king. Thus, the warm relationship portrayed in the film between King George VI and Churchill is anachronistic because in reality the King resented Churchill for some time for having supported his brother during the Abdication crisis. It wasn't until WWII that King George VI and Churchill became close friends. (For more about the inaccurate presentation of Churchill in the movie read Christopher Hitchen's fine review here.)

Another inaccuracy has to do with the film's perspective on King George VI's views concerning Hitler. For example there is a scene in which George VI, before he has become king and while his brother is still king, chastises his brother for his lackadaisical attitude toward the turmoil that is starting to envelop Europe to which Edward simply replies "Herr Hitler will sort them out" prompting George to retort "Yes, well, who will sort Herr Hitler out?". This is problematic because the actual views of King George VI towards Hitler are somewhat murkier than the film suggests. For instance, in his letters the King seems to speak somewhat favorably of Hitler and later gives his complete support to the appeasement policies of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (of course one could argue that the King had to support these policies since he didn't have any real authority to alter them).

Along with these rather substantial alterations to history there are some minor ones which were clearly made for cinematic purposes such as condensing the actual time that Logue treated the King (the movie makes this appear to be a matter of a few years when it was actually more like twelve years or so). In the end I didn't really have a problem with any of these changes because they don't really affect the tone and/or purpose of the film. In fact, my only real grief with the movie was the depiction of Churchill by Timothy Spall which I thought was not particularly good. But I implore you not to let these minor deficiencies deter you from seeing this film. Trust me it is well worth it. (Some of you are are much more liberally disposed may have problems with the films apparent glorification of the now antiquated notions of royalty to which I can only say that if you give it a chance you'll still enjoy the film).

Anyways, I think I was already predisposed to love this movie because it deals with similar themes that another favorite movie of mine, namely, My Fair Lady does so perhaps you would be wholly justified in completely disregarding my opinion of The King's Speech. Regardless, this provides me with a nice segue into leaving you with one of my favorite scenes from My Fair Lady because after all it is Valentine's Day, a day when I tend to suffer from slightly misogynistic thoughts. Enjoy and happy Valentine's Day.

*Update: The King's Speech won the Best Film award at the 64th British Film Academy Awards.

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