Sunday, April 3, 2011

"The King's Speech" - A Royal Treat!

Yesterday was my son's 19th birthday. To celebrate it, we went out for lunch, followed by a viewing of the movie The King's Speech at our local cinema complex. This was the second time through for my husband and I, having seen it for the first time with our good friends Alex and Maya. But neither of us dreaded the prospect of a repeat viewing.

I was amazed to see the theatre filled, perhaps not to capacity, but still full for a movie that had been showing for a number of weeks, let alone months. It was fun to glance over and see the expressions on my children's faces, wondering if they found it as interesting at the ages of 19 and 17, as we did at our ripe old ages of 51 and 46. Would this movie bridge the age divide? Did a movie without any form of violence, Will Ferrell style comedy, vampires, fantasy or love story, appeal to this generation? I couldn't really tell by their expressions. They seemed engrossed, their eyes were open and focused on the movie and not on their cell phones, I took that to be a positive sign.  I'm really not giving my kids much credit here. They both have in the past, enjoyed a number of heartfelt and thought provoking movies. So this was not really all that different, however, the pacing was I believe different from any other film they would have previously viewed. When asked what they thought after it was done, they both expressed their enjoyment, with my son even going so far as to say it was perhaps the best movie he has seen in a while!

The center of this movie is the relationship between King George VI (prior to becoming king and after as well) and his Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue.  Secondary to this relationship are the ones between "Bertie" (King George VI) and his wife (the Queen Mother), as well as those between him and his father and his brother David (the heir to the throne). 

The beginning of the film quickly and effectively brings the central issue to our attention, as we painfully watch through every pause and stammer of Prince Albert's closing speech at the Empire Exhibition at Wembley stadium.    I must say that I cringed along with those in the stadium seats every time his tongue seemed to hold onto a sound, not able to let it go. It was as if that sound was stuck there by some invisible cord, that required a great deal of effort and exertion to cut through and free it. With that speech, we the viewers, immediately understand the profound speech impediment that Prince Albert struggled with, an impediment that makes him wholly human in our minds, the distance of royalty pushed aside as our empathy for this man grows as we watch him attempt to overcome his disability.  There are moments in this film, as a commoner, which I am sure 99.9% of us viewing this film are, that we wonder at noblesse oblige, and views that seem so antiquated, but for the most part, there is an understanding and growing respect for this man of royal descent. 

We also grow to admire the stalwartness and persistence of his wife, the woman we have familiarly known as the Queen Mum, on his behalf. It is her persistence that has him finally meeting the man who would make such a tremendous difference to his life. She is an important character of encouragement and support in this true story. It actual gladdens my heart to see such a healthy and loving marital relationship on film, be it tinged with royalty or not! It also makes us smile to see the loving relationship between the King and his children, no royal reservedness of affection in sight.

The eccentric Mr. Lionel Logue, is someone with whom I would love to sit down and chat with over a cup of tea. He is a man who appeals on many levels; for his humor, kindness, ingenuity, and joie de vivre. A man who loved his family and brought a sense of fun into their relationship. Once again we bear witness to a healthy and loving family dynamic on film! Two for Two! I love the methods he used to help Prince Albert overcome his speech impediment, methods wholly unorthodox and yet effective for the matter at hand. It is interesting to see how out of life's experiences, lessons can be learned and observed. His theatre background, as well as his credentials for teaching elocution, combined with a compassionate heart to help soldiers injured by the Great war, and an interest in the field, enabled him to adapt and work with what one might consider to be one of his greatest cases. The King was a man disillusioned with the area of speech therapy, a prince of the realm, resistant and hurt, reserved and cool, yet self deprecating and humorous. A man with a temper and at times a cutting tongue. What a burden it must have been to have the prince's very mouth in your safe keeping, what a tremendous burden. And then to have this man, this client,  who you knew as Prince Albert, become King George VI after the abdication of the throne by his brother, have to deliver a speech that needed to capture the feelings of the country's citizens and also galvanize, comfort, and give purpose after war was declared, to have to help this King, this friend deliver a great speech, in spite of his speech impediment, what pressure that must have brought to bear.  I loved the freedom that Logie's methods brought to the prince. A freedom I dare say he must never have felt before. I love the warmth they brought to the man. The evolving friendship and trust  between these two diametrically opposite men, is what draws you into this film. 

The times and circumstances of the times make for a quiet and yet intensely dramatic backdrop to the story. The importance of this one particular speech, brings to mind other great speeches that held nations together during troubled or eventful times; in most recent history I think of President George Bush's speech after 9/11, President Obama's inaugural speech or President Roosevelt's speech after Pear Harbor comes to mind as speeches which moved, inspired, and healed, and in some cases gave purpose. This was one of those speeches for one of those moments. Looking back through history's rear view mirror, we know what this moment meant for the British empire. It meant the beginning of a horrible and devastating six year odyssey of war. One can only imagine what they must have felt, having only recently begun to put the pieces of the previous great war behind them, now to be faced once again with the same brutal nightmare. Yes this speech was important. It was crucial for those who listened. It was the voice of their purpose.

I highly recommend this movie. If you haven't had a chance to watch it at the theaters, try and do so before it leaves them, or watch it when it comes out on DVD this month. If you've already watched it, watch it again. It's just as good the second time around.