Monday, January 3, 2011

In THE KING'S SPEECH Hooper & Seidler offer quiet, classy history to move & amuse

This year's class act (at least, the one that will immediately read as such), appearing not by accident at Oscar- qualification time, is of course THE KING'S SPEECH, the new film from writer David Seidler and director Tom Hooper. It is everything you've probably heard -- from your friends; critics were a bit more mixed -- intelligent, relatively subtle for one of those movies-that-tackle-history, and played to near-perfection by its stalwart cast of classy Brits (and one Aussie) we know and love -- with a story based on true happenings that is guaranteed to amuse and move in nearly equal proportions. What's not to like?

Practically nothing, actually. The movie delivers on its many promises and does so without undue manipulation or moments that come too close to cloying. If it does not offer the excitement of surprise, novelty or a truckload of stylistic flourishes, neither does it bore -- even though you will pretty much know where it is going and how it will get there within a scene or two (or three). Director Hooper, shown at right (and known for Longford, The Damned United and last year's John Adams cable mini-series) has cast his film very well, and each actor, whether the role be large or small, delivers the goods. The filmmaker has his pacing down pat, too: There's a circuitous path from stammer to command that starts, stops and starts again, and as we travel it, we come to know these people, particularly the royal family, better than we might have expected.

Taking place in the 1930s, the movie offers the UK's current Queen Elizabeth II's dad (Colin Firth, above left), who, back then, had a terrible stammer. Because radio was growing in popularity and the royal family had to address its people, and because dad, affectionately known as "Bertie," is in line (not next, but in the wings) for England's throne, he simply must conquer that handicap. HRH, his wife (Helena Bonham Carterabove, right), does some sleuthing and comes up with a said-to-be-exceptional speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush, below). The rest, as they say, is (but this time it really is) history.  NOTE: I have recently been told that, although everything that happens here indeed did happen, the time frame in which it actually happened is not at all as the movie would have it. This may upset some who demand veracity from their films, though it does add suspense and necessity to the situation.

As fine as is the acting on display -- and some of the credit here must be given to Hooper and his editor, Tariq Anwar, who handle each scene with surety, whether it be an argument between teacher and pupil or a surprise introduction to the royal couple (one of the best scenes in the film is the initial meeting of the therapist's wife, the lovely Jennifer Ehle, above, with King and Queen) --  I believe it is the writing that seals the deal. 
The screenplay by Mr. Seidler (above) is expert in juggling its themes -- the life of royals against that of commoners, the psychological underpinnings of handicaps, the casual (and sometime not so) insults of England toward its colonies -- with ease, care and the occasional short, smart exchange. "What are friends for?" asks the therapist, during one telling conversation. After a very short pause, The King's "I wouldn't know" speaks volumes about the troubled, regal life of this poor, wealthy fellow. Up till now, Seidler's work has included a co-writing credit on one of Coppola's lesser accomplishments, Tucker, and a lot of television, including -- of all things -- that noted and campy TV movie Malice in Wonderland, in which Elizabeth Taylor and Jane Alexander limned, respectively, Parsons and Hopper.  

The movie begins to rely a bit too much on the wonderful faces of its actors, as full of humanity and barely-repressed emotion as they are. At the finale, one might want something more than a close-up of Rush following a close-up of Firth to get across the meaning, the fullness, of what we've just seen witnessed. A symbol perhaps, something not quite so literal that makes us think and connect. Am I quibbling? The King's Speech is certainly a fine and enjoyable film -- but it does finally come a tad too close to the movie equivalent of painting-by-numbers.  

Click on the film's site link, then click on one of the ticket hawkers under BUY TICKETS to learn where the film is playing closest to you.

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