The Windsors! They’re Just Like Us!

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11/24/2010 1:00 AM |

The King’s Speech
Directed by Tom Hooper

“Monarchy is,” he writes, “without contradiction, the form of government that gives the most distinction to the greatest number of persons.” Ordinary people “share” in its “brilliance,” though not, Maistre is careful to add, in its decisions and deliberations: “man is honored not as an agent but as a portion of sovereignty.”
-Corey Rabin, describing Joseph de Maistre’s Considerations on France in the current Harper’s

Good news and bad news: This year’s Best Actor Oscar will go to Colin Firth, as The King’s Speech‘s George VI—not only British royalty, but royalty with an impairment (not a full one). His stammering spare-turned-heir wrangles with speech pathologist Geoffrey Rush, before fighting through a radio address to the British Empire on the cusp of WWII; the film is an hymn to power, which flatters viewers by bringing the hidebound English monarchy down to earth, and flatters the monarchy with its excitement over their presence here. The Queen pretended satire before exulting in the QE2’s relatable moment in the mass-media spotlight, but here director Tom Hooper is nakedly hero-worshipful, thrilling to the sight of the King of England saying “Fuck,” and befriending a commoner the better to lead. In a typical light-comic moment, His ‘n’ Her Royal Majesty are caught in the awkward position of having to decline a dinner invitation in a lower-upper-middle-class flat—the Windsors! They’re just like us!

Following the opening sequence, in which a microphone reverb cruelly amplifies the Duke of Windsor’s stammer (Firth handles quite well his stumbles, choke-y full-stops, Tourettic moments of clarity and weak wegal “r”s), Michael Gambon’s George V lays it out, plummy-English-character-actor-delivering-exposition-style: with the advent of radio, ruler and subjects are closer than ever, and a King must master modern mass media in general, or be mastered by it. So, future Queen Mother Helena Bonham Carter (doing her oh-how-I-love-my-misfit sweetface when not standing daintily on ceremony) seeks out the Australian-born therapist Lionel Logue (Rush), whose methods are “unorthodox and controversial.”

Chief among them: calling the second son of the King of England “Bertie” because “it’s better if we were equals.” This daring breach of protocol is, for Hooper—who often shoots fisheye close-ups with a wide-angle lense, for that drolly amused portrait-gallery effect—license for silly training montages. The whole thing is quite adaptable for community theater, really, taking place largely in his barren office and involving two antic people swinging arms, rocking on the balls of their feet, shouting out windows, and shaping the word “father”—the roots of his stammer are psychological, you see. And they must be faced, once he’s crowned, his pussywhipped older brother (Guy Pearce) having stepped aside for Eve Best’s sharp Wallis. Which reminds one to ask: Why aren’t we watching a movie about brother Edward’s “The woman I love” speech, if we’re going to watch a movie about a kingly piece of oratory delivered by one of George V’s sons? And for that matter, if we’re going to watch a movie about the rhetoric that inspired Britain to victory over the Huns, why aren’t we watching Churchill’s “fight them on the beaches” blast? (Timothy Spall, incidentally, makes a hilariously jowel-juddering Sir Winston.) The climactic king’s speech comes after Bertie and Lionel’s almost romantic-comic separation and late reunion and George VI’s marvel at Hitler’s speechmaking, and it’s stuff of historical consequence and no mistake: strings straining along with Firth’s checked stammer; cuts to rapt listeners worldwide, and a vast, adoring crowd cheering afterwards, when the King makes his appearance on the balcony of Buckingham Palace. But between basking in his heroism on the eve of world war, he takes the time to call Lionel “my friend”-a moment of glowing acknowledgement that wouldn’t actually be out of place in Sidekicks.

Opens November 26