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The Kingís Speech (7/10)

by Tony Medley

Run time 111 minutes.

OK for children.

This is a film with magnificent performances by Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush and is based on the true story of Britainís King George VI speech impediment. While I found his stammer a bit disconcerting throughout the first hour, the movie picked up substantially in the last hour, enough so that it is a moving tribute to a man with exceptional courage.

The Prince of Wales, who became King Edward VIII before abdicating and becoming the Duke of Windsor, is played by Guy Pearce. He gives a terrific performance of the script as written, but his interpretation of the weak Duke as a man with certitude seemed misleading. The film touches on some of his weaknesses, but there are lots of theories about why he abdicated to marry Wallis Simpson (Eve Best, who looks the part). The two most noteworthy were suppositions that he was gay and that he was pro-Nazi. But Pearce plays him with a heterosexual self-confidence he never showed in later life, so the film just buys into the spin that the reason he abdicated was for love.

That left his brother, Bertie, as he was known by his family, to assume the role of monarch, something he and his family had never expected or intended. Not only was he unprepared, but his stammer made any speech required nothing but horror for him. Even so, he persevered and took the crown. This film concentrates on the little known story of the speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Rush), who helped him.  After a rough start, the two delve into an unorthodox course of treatment which bonds them into an unbreakable friendship.

Director Tom Hopper (who also got wonderful performances from his cast in his debut film, The Damned United in 2009) missed a golden opportunity to emphasize the dichotomy between the Prince of Wales, who appeared strong, and Bertie, who appeared weak. In actuality, Bertie showed enormous courage and patriotism by assuming the throne, knowing that it required him to do the one thing that he deathly feared, making public speeches. And the Prince of Wales showed enormous weakness in abdicating. But, alas, Hopper not only ignores this story line, he misrepresents the Prince of Wales so the distinction is not even alluded to.

In addition to Pearceís misleading interpretation of the Prince of Wales, Timothy Spall gives a mystifying, wholly inaccurate interpretation of Winston Churchill as an unsmiling, unappealing grump, when, in fact, Churchill always had a glint in his eye and possessed a marvelous sense of humor. You would never guess that from Spallís performance in this film.

The film is a touching tribute to a man who has been ignored by history and is enlivened by the performances of Rush and Firth aided and abetted by a fine performance by Helena Bonham Carter as Bertieís wife, who became the Queen Mother to Elizabeth II.

As a postscript, someone who knew the story mentioned to the Queen Mother that it would make a fine film. Her reply was that it might, but she hoped they would wait until after she died.

 

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