Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Speak the speech, I pray you

What's the perfect mid-day sanity break for a history major whose focus was "Between the World Wars"? Going to see The King's Speech, of course.

(Colin Firth as the star had nothing maybe everything something to do with it.)

At any rate, I really liked it. Even though I tend to agree with the local paper's review (they sent a Marxist critic to a movie about King George VI), as a story about a protagonist with a stammer and the relationship he forges with his Shakespeare-quoting speech therapist, the film was quite good. Historical inaccuracies abounded, but overall it was captivating.

But the movie appeals most to raving Anglophiles, particularly former nerdy tween girls who spent much of middle school obsessed with Edward VIII's abdication and would dramatically roll their eyes when classmates blinked and said "Wallis who?"

(Twenty years later, those girls dive into a matinee to temporarily escape the madness of legislative session. And then they geek out for the whole movie because they recognize all of the film's minor characters as major historical figures from their pet era.)

Ahem. I digress.

Geoffrey Rush was good as usual, but really his role didn't really differ drastically from any other role of teacher or coach in any other film. Colin Firth (and I realize I'm biased) had the more difficult role of mimicking a well-known voice in a particular accent as well as acting out the stammer itself. But the character I was fascinated by the most was the future Queen Mother: Helena Bonham Carter as Queen Mary. For starters, she was the only major female character, even if she basically played the aristocratic version of the stand-by-your-man gal. We got small glimpses into the personal life of the speech therapist and certainly the king - but of the one character who lived to most viewers' lifetimes (she only died in 2002), we got virtually nothing.

One theme that didn't get played out as much as I had hoped was the way in which radio and newsreels changed the relationship between Britons and the monarchy. (Buckingham Palace has a youtube channel now, and first announced Prince William's engagement via Twitter, so the idea of technology changing royal communication - and why - is certainly prescient.) Though there were many fleeting references to the role of the Royal Family, I think that the connection to the rest of the realm (or lack thereof) - and how radio changed it - could have been emphasized more. Without it, the climactic scenes where subjects throughout the world are inspired and comforted by their king's wartime radio speech just didn't seem very convincing.

Ay, there's the rub...