Monday, December 27, 2010

The King's Speech

I don't generally think of myself as a movie critic - except insofar as everyone is. But I do like movies and they have become one of my main recreations in my old age. Today, I finally got to see The King's Speech. It's been in limited release in certain cities since late November, but here in Knoxville only since Christmas Day. I had, in fact, originally planned to go and see it late on Christmas Day, but our "White Christmas" intervened, and I thought better of it. Today is bitter cold, but no snow or sleet or ice. So, after the noon Mass, I drove to the only movie theater in reasonable distance that was showing it.

It was worth the wait. All the actors turned in great performances, but especially the two principals - Colin Firth as "Bertie"(HRH, the Duke of York, later King George VI) and Geoffrey Rush as his idiosyncratic speech therapist, Lionel Logue. Helena Bonham Carter also does a great job at the Duchess of York, whose actual historical role in helping her husband was even greater than is obvious in the film, which is largely focused with the dynamic of the personal relationship between the therapist and his royal patient.

Apart from a few dubiously historical minor scenes (e.g., a conversation with Winston Churchill that hardly reflects the historical fact that at the time Churchill was more a supporter of Edward VIII), the film rings true to what is known historically. The true story of a man of limited talent from whom little was expected, - a man utterly lacking in charisma and used to being overshadowed by his glamorous elder brother, but loved by his supportive wife and children, who overcomes his limitations through heroic effort - such a story, if well told and acted, is the sort of story almost certain to be well received. That it is a true story and that it mattered not just for one man and his family but for a nation on the verge of a war for its very survival give it a grandeur that goes beyond sentimentality.

In the process, it provides a useful civics lesson on duty - highlighted by the contrast with the glamorous but unworthy older brother, King Edward VIII.

Finally, the film highlights how modern technology - radio, then - has impacted political leadership and burdened it with the expectation of celebrity and personal charisma, a development that has been vastly exacerbated in the 65 years since the end of the war. Since this was, after all, the "greatest generation," duty, dedication, and integrity trumped celebrity and charisma (and Western Civilization was saved in the process). Could that happen today?

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