Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace

Why, yes, Mr. Hitler, I do object.

Character driven historical dramas used as vehicles for acting showcases have long been the bread and butter of many an Oscar campaign.  The King’s Speech is one such throw-back picture, harkening to a simpler time when entertainment was good and pure.  It’s 100% by-the-numbers bread and butter…but it’s that really good bread, you know the kind that is crusty on the outside and warm and tender inside, and the butter, it’s like that really fancy kind infused with garlic and stuff. 

It’s the dawn of WWII in England, and the royals are still reeling from the Wallis Simpson scandal.  After his brother abdicates the throne, King George VI (Colin Firth – not looking, but certainly acting the hell out of the part) reluctantly takes charge while cowering in fear of a life-long stutter.  With the help of his wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter, still damn good when not stuck in Tim Burton films) he finds an unlikely speech therapist in the Australian Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush in his wheelhouse) to help him overcome his stammering.  You see, Mr. Logue has some unorthodox methods that force the stiff monarch to let down his guard.  Eventually a friendship is formed, and through this relationship, the king finds his voice and is able to lead.

Just when you start to question why they even have a royal family anymore, the British have this great knack for churning up a bit of their history and turning it into a fine film that reminds the world why they love their royals.  King George VI is depicted as the voice of his people, a symbol for Great Britain’s stance against the encroaching power of Nazi Germany.  His speeches gave his people hope in the darkest of times, and his personal struggle to overcome a “common” psychological problem makes him relatable to a new generation. 

Although there may have been a bigger payoff had a deeper exploration gone into the psychology of oration which compared the devious means of great public speakers with real power like Hitler and Mussolini (who was peripherally explored earlier in 2010 in Vincere) against a figurehead like King George VI, screenwriter David Seidler (inspired by his own personal struggles with stuttering) was probably wise to focus on the human drama and the relationship between the king and Logue.  He provides two veteran character actors a chance to play off each other, and that’s a solid enough payoff in itself.

Director Tom Hooper, who has plied his trade in some of HBO’s greatest historical miniseries (Elizabeth I and John Adams) gets his first stab at a large-scale film production, and he makes the transition smoothly.  He carries over to this project that same keen sense of period detail (check out Logue’s office with the chipped and peeling walls) and atmosphere (all that fog) that lend his works palpable authenticity.  He’s also never met a crooked angle or off-center frame he didn’t like.  Somewhere down the line this guy has to make a period-piece noir — an adaptation of a classic Graham Greene novel would seem right up his alley.  Oh, what wonders he could do with a faithful adaptation of A Gun for Sale!

And it’s funny…the England on display here is Greene’s England – on the brink of war, just before the romance and horrors of the London blitz.  I wonder what he thought of King George VI in real life?  Greene was also a film lover and critic…and I think even his hardened, cynical type would’ve found The King’s Speech in great favor.

Written by David H. Schleicher

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4 comments on “Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace

  1. DeeDee says:

    D.H.Schleicher said,”Helena Bonham Carter, still damn good when not stuck in Tim Burton films…”
    Hey! I “resemble” (not resent) that remark!

    D.H.,
    This is a very well-written review…with a strong introduction and a strong and inquisitive conclusion.

    I hope to one day watch this film along with An Unpublished Story and Night Train to Munich. (Sam Juliano, sent me a copy Of the latter film…)

    (The former and latter film(s) both focus on “the dawn of WWII in England,” too!)
    Thanks, for sharing!
    DeeDee 😉 🙂

    DeeDee – both of those films sound very interesting indeed! I have a strong hunch you will very much enjoy The King’s Speech. –DHS

  2. Yes David we do seem to agree right down the line here. I like your recommendation that Hooper take up Graham Greene. How about one of my favorites, “The Heart of the Matter”?

    Oh, and off topic, have you seem James Franco is trying to direct Cormac McCarthy’s “Blood Meridian”? I love James Franco, but I hated that book. (But I don’t like much of McCarthy’s stuff. You know when “The Road” is one of the most upbeat things he’s written, there has to be a problem.) I don’t know what to make of this. It could either be spectacular or, like “No Country for Old Men,” a colossal waste of time.

    Jason, hmmm…Scobie on screen could be interesting…but I was really thinking of one of Greene’s more suspenseful entries from the 30’s or 40’s like The Confidential Agent, A Gun for Sale or even Brighton Rock. I know they have all been done before, but…A Gun for Sale was particularly botched as This Gun for Hire (a decent noir film when not being compared to the novel) where they changed the setting from London to California and sucked out all of the great pre-WWII atmosphere. A faithful adaptation by someone like Hooper could be really something I think.

    As for the Franco thing…that seems highly odd to me. He doesn’t strike me as a director, but who knows. I am no fan of McCarthy, though I understand why many lavish praise on him. –DHS

  3. CMrok93 says:

    It’s a very generic inspirational story, but the scenes with Rush and Firth are perfect, and keep this film’s heart in the right place.

    CMrok93 – yup, I thought so, too. Though one wonders if the real story had that much “uplift”. –DHS

  4. Prakash says:

    Saw this movie today. Colin Firth was excellent with a restrained performance; yet my vote for the Oscar still goes to Bardem.

    And having seen it I find it over-rated by the Oscars. Definitely not a best picture or director award. There were moments no doubt but it was too simplistic a story to deserve such big honours. For instance, Colin could speak flawlessly with the headphones on, the first time he meets his therapist. He had to repeat that act and lo, we have the cure, and the climax. Why go through the trouble of building up so much drama?

    You so rightly put it across in your opening sentence, “Character driven historical dramas used as vehicles for acting showcases have long been the bread and butter of many an Oscar campaign.”

    You are spot on again when you say “Although there may have been a bigger payoff had a deeper exploration gone into the psychology of oration which compared the devious means of great public speakers with real power like Hitler and Mussolini”. The human drama was simply too SIMPLE! It never really transcended, a short documentary would have been nice but not such an over-hyped film with one Oscar too many. I think the hype has killed the fun of enjoying a simple movie for me.

    Prakash, I think I enjoyed it more than you…though I imagine if I had seen it after all the Oscar-hype, I would be a little disappointed. To me, it was a nice story (simple, yes, though they attempted to add political and emotional complexity) well acted and with great production values. Were there better films last year? Absolutely! Am I mad it was chosen as Best Picture? Not in the least bit. –DHS

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