15 January 2011

The King's Speech

I'm back. My laptop has a new power supply and I don't have to use my husband's computer anymore.

My first cinema outing of the new year was to see The King's Speech, which has won/been nominated for various awards, and which I've been looking forward to since before Christmas.

I am interested in history, this is no surprise to anyone who knows me. I've enjoyed studying all sorts of different historical periods, but by the time I was 16 I'd decided I wasn't that interested in modern history. Because modern history -as taught to me in both History and English lessons- was mostly World Wars. However over the last few years I've developed a growing interest in the bits of twentieth century history that aren't 1914-1918 and 1939-1945. In a way Downton Abbey and The King's Speech came along at just the right time for me.

The film was excellent. The look, the feel, the acting, the emotions, it all just worked.

I've always quite liked the quirkiness of Helena Bonham Carter and the characters she has played. Yet here she was returning to period-drama, which defined her early career. Instead of playing a waif or ingenue, or a quirky gothic type she played a woman who was at the very heart of the British upper-class/royal establishment. She was excellent. She really captured the polite iciness of Elizabeth towards Wallis Simpson.

Colin Firth was brilliant as well, something which came as a pleasant surprise. I tend to think of him as a romantic lead, with the exception of Shakespeare in Love, so I was interested to see what he would be like with such a strong character role. He was wonderful. Bertie (King George VI) was a challenging part and he really rose to the occasion. Going from a loving father, to a frustrated stammerer, to a formal prince and later reluctant king, Firth -well directed with a wonderful script- showed different facets of the man who never wanted to be king. The voice was obviously a major part of his performance, and Firth made those stutters and stammers feel real, as well as doing a good imitation of the posh but somehow small voice of the prince. It was interesting to see him play a character who was so lacking in charisma, but he always kept dignity in the role and never became ridiculous or bumbling.

Geoffrey Rush was excellent, but then I generally expect Geoffrey Rush to be excellent. He was excellent even in Pirates of the Caribbean 3 when he'd been given lines that didn't make any sense. So seeing him working with such a good script is a real treat.

I'd also like to take a moment to mention Timothy Spall in a supporting role playing Winston Churchill. Now Spall is an actor who has played a variety of parts, many of them comedic, some of them grotesque. However I've often felt that, though he's not a big name, he must be a good actor. Seeing him as Churchill (pre-WWII MP and newly-made Lord of the Admiralty Churchill) just felt like a good piece of the casting. In fact I'd quite like to see him play Churchill again. If any TV or film people could arrange it that'd be just lovely.

I knew various bits and pieces about the abdication, about Edward VIII's love for Wallis Simpson, about the horror the British establishment felt about the whole situation. I knew that the Queen Mother had never liked Mrs Simpson back when she was still the Duchess of York, and that when she was Queen she referred to her as "that woman". Then again apparently Wallis Simpson referred to her sister-in-law, the Queen of England, as "Cookie". Clearly these were two women who were never going to get along.
It was a constitutional crisis, the first one since the madness of George III. Personally I think the constitutional crises -historical ones at least- are interesting, which is probably why I love Stuart History so much.

I heartily recommend this film to anyone who enjoys drama and strong character-based story-telling.

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