Sunday, November 28, 2010
the king's speech
Born in Britain and raised in Long Island, 73-year old David Seidler claims his stuttering began around his third birthday. His parents told him about King George VI, whom, according to them, seemed to have overcome his impediment by delivering stirring radio speeches in the midst of war. The King's Speech is a film of many strengths and the personal nature of Seidler's script only adds to its richness.
It follows the little known story of Prince Albert (the future King George VI) who went to Austrailian-born speech therapist Lionel Logue for help after a disastrous appearance at the 1925 closing of the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley. The movie builds artfully and powerfully from their first meeting to the King's rousing 1939 broadcast from Buckingham Palace.
The dance that emerges out of the performances of Colin Firth (as George VI) and Geoffrey Rush (as Logue) is just plain astonishing (and fun) to watch. Rush, who is usually Shakespearean-showy, is remarkable--tender and authentic. The film closes with his gaze, and in a way, the story, and the audience's sympathies, belong to him. It's one of the finest supporting performances I can think of in recent memory. Firth, always such a serious and brooding presence, gives his best performance (and only a year after his stunning work in the stark A Single Man). Once again he infuses his aloofness with tremendous warmth. His frustration and quiet agonies are made palpable by his physicality, rhythms of speech and those large dark eyes. Unlike many British pics of this type, it isn't stuffy or witty screwball (Seidler's script is never too sparkly)--it has both an Ivory/Merchant polished sheen (love it or hate it--I went ahead and embraced it fully and felt rewarded in the end) and a deeply emotional context. Netty Chapman's art direction and Eve Stewart's production design are impeccable and fascinating to behold; the muddled colors in the peeled wallpaper on the walls of Logue's humble office looks like a painting. The movie is enhanced by the talented Alexandre Desplat's score. Some of Danny Cohen's shots which illuminate in gorgeous widescreen both the opulent visuals and Albert's isolation are almost as good as those found in Kubrick films like Barry Lyndon. And Tom Hooper's handsome direction is often impressive. Not only does he do strong work with his actors (even Guy Pearce and Helena Bonham Carter in small, but important supporting roles have moments to shine) but the Capra-esque old Hollywood influence he wears on his sleeve is well-suited for this affair. He just creates an environment where a story gets told well. Usually a fan of darker, more realistic films, I still found Hooper's film refreshing and apt rather than cloying. The use of Beethoven's "7th Symphony" may be a bit much for some but it's really quite a beautiful moment: the melody of the music itself--halting, passionate, building slowly--is elegantly timed with Firth's delivery. ****