Really, tremendously good movies are hard to come by and stand apart from their contemporaries in terms of being meaningful. I’ve always loved films about real people, some of them extraordinary and others quite ordinary. From little horses no one thought could win races to the most incredible people we have ever known, something about biopics resonates with me… maybe because so often, I see the hand of God written profoundly in the lives of the central players, even if at times they are completely unaware of it.
The King’s Speech went to a limited release, then a wider release, and finally arrived in a local cinema so that I could see it. I considered whether or not to go alone or invite my dad along, because I’m a great deal like him and we share a love for biopics. Since we had seen The Queen together, it seemed only right that we should see a film about her dad together. So we went. And on the way out, while I was choking back overwhelming emotion and happiness, he said, “That was excellent.”
The screenplay was marvelous — witty and humorous but also serious, touching, heartwarming, and even at times sad.
The sensitivity and fascination with which the director approached the project was spot-on.
And then there are the performances. I must say, performances do not impress me very often. Much of the time, actors are good — even quite good, but rarely am I so shocked with a performance that it inspires me to take notice of it. Firth has been praised for this role, and I can see why — he assumes the role of a natural stutterer without… well, falling victim to it. Bertie stutters. But we do not define him by his stutter, he is a whole, absolute, and complete person with or without it — whom we like very much. In one scene, in which he stammers his way through a bedtime story for his enraptured children, we have the essence of Bertie — a frightened future monarch, a loving father, a devoted husband, who even though he is humiliated by his stutter, feels totally at ease in the presence of his children. This is beautifully contrasted later after his succession to the throne when the girls curtsy to him rather than running and hugging him as usual — you can see it on his face, the shock and a certain amount of devastation, before resignation sets in. So yes, Firth is good. Deliciously good. Marvelous, really… and supported by a cast of equal talent.
I will be the first to admit that I adore Helena Bonham-Carter in wicked, diabolical roles. She was marvelous as the lovestruck, evil Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd, and I tend to let out a cackle of excitement whenever her frizzy head appears as Bellatrix in Harry Potter. It is a shame therefore that I tend to forget there is a serious, classically trained actress underneath, but here she lets it shine, and reminded me she really is a “grown up” actress. Her best moment I think was hearing the record of her husband reading without a single stammer… the look on her face was glorious. And of course, we cannot forget Geoffrey Rush. He’s nothing to look at, but the man can act — I have never denied that, and here his comedic timing is genius, his delivery humorous, his disappointments evident. He tells us so much about the character in his mannerisms, in the state of his office, in his eyes. He doesn’t steal the scenes from Firth, they share them with equal respect and equal greatness. But I must say, the actor that impressed me the most was Timothy Spall. I have seen him in a great many things but this was the first time the notion that he might be magnificent entered my head. He’s such an unusual actor that he’s quite often not given serious parts — but I swear, it was like Churchill was in the room. I’ve seen numerous Oscar-nominated actors play Churchill, and this was the first time I actually believed it.
Here, I must put myself off… because I could go on for ages about all of them and that would not only turn dull but also descend into serious fangirling mode. Everyone is marvelous, and I especially enjoyed the slew of familiar faces that turned up here and there from various costume dramas — Jennifer Ehle, Anthony Andrews, even Derek Jacobi. (I laughingly explained the film to my mother thus: “Mr. Darcy stutters and is married to Bellatrix, but goes to Inspect Javert for speech therapy in spite of him being married to Lizzie Bennett, much to the annoyance of Brother Cadfael, who is now the Archbishop. Sir Percy Blakeney is Prime Minister, but Peter Pettigrew is waiting in the wings.”)
But that’s not what makes it good. That’s not the reason the audience at my showing burst into applause at the end. It touched them because it is all about overcoming a serious problem in one’s life, something one cannot help. I think all of us identify with Bertie, even if we don’t s-s-s-stutter. You see, we are all looked down on for our faults and things we cannot help. Our world is quick to condemn, to dismiss, to assume people are not important. But here’s Bertie, a stutterer mocked endlessly by his family, who winds up being a powerful monarch during a time of war, a time when England needed reassurances through radio broadcasts. That is why we care so much, what touches us… that Bertie is not courageous, he is just an ordinary man placed into a difficult situation. He’s scared. And so are we. When he steps up to that microphone and hesitates, our hearts jump into our throats. We cringe, and inwardly encourage him on. Come on, Bertie! You can do it! You know you can do it! I know you can do it!
For me, there was something even more important in the background, something they never bothered to talk about, but that is apparent all the same. England needed Bertie, and it needed Winston Churchill. Two stutterers! Two men who were not ambitious, who probably would have rather had tea and stayed home, but who were the right men for the job. Is it a coincidence that Edward abdicated, and left his brother Albert to lead a nation through wartime? Is it a coincidence that the Prime Minister resigned, which would allow Winston to step into his place when England needed him most? Neither of them wanted to do it, and in Bertie’s case, was forced into it, but God used them. They were born when they needed to be born, went through what they needed to go through, and did what He intended for them to do. It wasn’t fun, but they did it and were remarkable men because of it. The Nazis made fun of Bertie shamelessly, calling him the “stuttering king,” but his ability to overcome his handicap and rouse the English people gave them a kind of hope that transcended fear, a pride in their country and their monarchy that was much needed, and convinced them that yes, anything is possible.
Even if you stutter.
Proper review here.