THE KING’S SPEECH (2010)
Every once in a while the movie business exceeds its own expectations. The King’s Speech provides us with one such instance. I admit that I am a sucker for a story based on historical fact, so it is no surprise that I took to this film like the proverbial duck to water. And why not? The screenplay is superb, the acting quite wonderful, and the director Tom Hooper, the picture itself, the writer David Seidler and Colin Firth as King George VI, were all rewarded with Academy Awards. The film is one of Hollywood’s more worthy ‘Best Picture’ winners (and God knows there have been an awful lot of unworthy ones down the decades). The part of King George VI was initially written for actor Paul Bettany but he declined it, preferring to spend time with his family, a decision he has since regretted, particularly after Colin Firth’s performance won him a Best Actor Oscar.
King George VI
When his older brother, King Edward VIII, chooses to give up the throne in order to marry a twice-divorced woman, Wallis Simpson, Prince Albert, Duke of York, is compelled to ascend it in his place. Unfortunately, he has been a chronic stutterer since childhood. As the newly announced Head of State, and with war looming on the horizon, he must somehow overcome his impediment. His wife, Queen Elizabeth, (mother of the future monarch Elizabeth II), hires Lionel Logue, an Australian actor and speech therapist who employs unconventional methods, to help the new king overcome his stammer and to speak with confidence. The two men from vastly differing backgrounds eventually become friends.
Interestingly, screenwriter David Seidler, who stammered as a child himself, had heard King George VI’s wartime speech as a boy. As an adult he wrote to Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother (King George’s widow) and asked for her permission to use the story to create a motion picture. The Queen Mother asked him not to make it during her lifetime, saying the memories were too painful, and he respected her request. The king passed away from cancer in 1952 at the age of fifty-six. Most of his adult life he smoked 20-25 cigarettes a day. His death from complications of lung cancer surgery may well have been inevitable. The Queen Mother would outlive him by fifty years before her death in 2002 at the age of 101. Eight years later The King’s Speech was released to cinemas around the world.
Colin Firth had to learn how to speak with a stammer and to do the exercises needed to overcome it. He was able to turn for help to his sister Katie Firth, an actress turned speech therapist. After completing the film he was then faced with the task of removing the stutter he had acquired for the role. Just like King George VI, he was compelled to seek speech assistance to enable this to happen. Ironically, the actor who would go on to win a Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of King George VI, is a British republican who has long advocated the abolition of the monarchy! When awarded a CBE, however, he accepted the honour.
Historically, there are mistakes in this movie, as indeed there nearly always are in films ‘based on true stories’. British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, for instance, did not step down due to his inability to handle Herr Hitler. He was persuaded to retire by Chamberlain and, like Chamberlain, was in favour of the Munich Agreement. So was King George VI, for that matter. In fact, he broke with protocol by publicly endorsing it in 1938. Baldwin’s last act as PM, incidentally, was to increase salaries of MPs from 400 to 600 pounds a year. He was knighted the following day.
Edward VIII’s flirtation with Nazism, both before and after the outbreak of hostilities, is completely underplayed here. Furthermore, Winston Churchill is misrepresented as an opponent of Edward VIII. He was not. In fact, he was the man’s strongest and most vocal supporter and strongly in favour of Edward marrying Mrs. Simpson and thereby remaining King of England. During the ‘Abdication Crisis’ he said of King Edward VIII, ‘No Sovereign has ever conformed more strictly to the letter and spirit of the Constitution than his present Majesty’. As for Wallis Simpson, he said, ‘No-one has been more victimized by gossip and scandal.’ Churchill later wrote that the abdication was ‘premature and probably quite unnecessary’.
From the sublime to the mundane. I have just demonstrated enormous courage and determination by watching an entire movie starring the staggeringly over-rated Will Ferrell. Having done so, I can say without equivocation, I have rarely been so bored by a movie in my seventy-four years on the planet! I noticed (with astonishment) the comments from one of the players, comedian Bob Newhart, who just happened to be seventy-four himself when this picture was released. After reading the script, he waxed lyrical, telling his wife how wonderful both the story and his role in it were. Indeed, he saw it as ultimately becoming a perennial movie like Miracle on 34th Street (1947), one that would play every Christmas season! Mr. Newhart, I fear, is no longer capable of recognizing a clever or humorous script if it bobbed up in his corn flakes!
Put simply, Elf is an exercise in blandness. There is not a single moment of genuine wit or humour in the whole film; Ferrell is about as exciting to watch as the Sargasso Sea on a still day; Newhart is so far past his ‘use by’ date he is bordering on pathetic and should retire gracefully and just count or spend his money, and James Caan must have desperately needed the money to appear in this crud. The only plus is Zooey Deschanel who is genuinely lovely, possesses a nice singing voice, but has far too little to do.
I believe this movie was produced on a budget of $33 million and took in over $223 million worldwide! Are movie-goers really so unable to identify quality? I can understand rap singers becoming overnight millionaires churning out their tuneless doggerel; after all the twelve and thirteen year-olds who buy their records have no idea about talent either, but most movie-goers are adults so there is no excuse for them. Believe it or not, Ferrell turned down twenty-nine million to star in a 2013 sequel! I do not know how much he received for this, his first starring role, but whatever it was it was clearly too much.
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