Colin Firth during press conference promoting The King’s Speech
I’ll begin with The King’s Speech, directed by Tom Hooper (he also directed Daniel Deronda), screenplay David Seidler and numerous producers.
It’s a deeply absorbing, nay (for me) riveting movie in which with sensitive empathy, utterly convincing, Colin Firth enacts Bertie or George VI as someone afflicted with a very bad stammer, strong sense of inadequacy (despite his high rank), along with a truly noble, ethical, kindly nature. Good father, loving husband too. Yes, it’s another of these deeply reverent movies about the British monarchy, with our central characters behaving with exemplary perception and well-meaningness. Everyone but Firth is made up to look closely like the (unattractive) people they are enacting, so much so I am putting on this blog the actors in their ordinary clothes
Both women — Jennifer Ehle played Myrtle, Logue, the speech therapist’s wife — spent their time looking compassionate, reassuring, patting the men or children in sight. Their remarkable talents were thrown away, or only a smidgin of it used. Bonham Carter is protean in the types and power she lends to all her roles (she is the only live presence in the recent Harry Potter film). I suggest Ehle did not get the lead role for to see her next to Firth at the closing scene on the balcony greeting and reassuring their adoring public as WW2 sets grimly in would reek too strongly of Darcy and Elizabeth grown middle-aged
Part of the fun for me was to bring out of my memory which actor was this or that person playing this or that role. I felt a certain triumph on recognizing in Baldwin an aged Anthony Andrews, in a minor functionary David Bamber. These surrounding roles bring me to why I say in my header but doesn’t bear too much thinking about. The performances felt dazzling in part because the stereotypes were so cleverly inflected with corruption, flattery, aggrandizement, as, for example, Derek Jacobi as the Archbishop kept stealing the scenes:
But all the roles except Bertie, Logue and (for a bit) David (Edward) were stereotypes. The full psychological reality given George VI and apparently Geoffrey Rush as Logue makes us not pay attention to how little beyond two dimensions is given anyone else.
I say apparently because a little thought makes one realize how idealized, unreal is the account of Logue in the film:
Lionel Logue had no degree; he is presented as someone without much money who gets along (just) on his unconvenional therapy business. Logue became something of a Rasputin the way he managed to help the Duke and then king who became dependent on Logue’s presence for the rest of his life when it came to public speaking (which happened often enough). After all there is a direct parallel between Edward’s (called David in the film, played by David Pearce) infatuation with Mrs Simpson (Eve Best) and the development of such a strong dependency on her, he gives up his throne to have her as his life’s support and companion. But in this film Mrs Simpson is demonized: presented as ludicrously promiscuous, exploitative, hard, and Edward as cruel and nasty, derisive to his younger brother, Bertie, so we don’t think to see the parallel, but there is one. This kind of dependence with someone who is an utter outsider can be seen in other members of the royal family (Prince Charles has shown this).
Can it be the mediocrity of their intelligence and pressure of the fishbowl job? Jim did say the story explaining how Bertie came to stammer was true enough: he was bullied by a nanny, his older brother, his father, George V (played by Michael Gambon, as presented a piece of cake, so easy) did say to Bertie: I was terrified by my father and I will make you very scared to me (words to this effect). One of the most moving moments in the film has Firth breaking down into tears not just because he stammers, but because he has been so narrowly educated (he’s only a naval officer).
At any rate had whatever the relationship between Logue and George VI been thought about with intelligence, regarding them as complex, ambivalent adults interacting, instead of Logue all love and pious support and the King at first disdainful, distrustful but then sheer gratitude, the movie might have made a serious statement about the condition and experience of life of a super-privileged disabled man. It was something more complex than the servant becoming the master; it was not simply playing at being equals (as is suggested by Logue). Logue and Bertie used one another.
Alas the film offered no adult useful insights into the relationship between a life-long therapist-companion and powerful disabled person.
The film was rather simply popularly heart-wrenching because Firth knows how to be heart-wrenching with poised dignity. Jeremy Irons slides too far into the neurotic (perhaps is too thin) so he can be mocked and for men in our macho culture is embarrassing. Firth remains close to calm control, on the edge of the breaking point (and the massive shoulders help project this image).
The music (non-diegetic) was repeatedly Beethoven, including the king’s last speech, given upon the declaration of WW2 was eloquent. I assume this is the one George VI gave.
I thought my friends and readers might also like to know we three (Jim, aka the Admiral, Izzy and I) passed our Christmas day together.
Early morning Izzy and I watched some videos of spectacular ice-skate dancing to the music of the Nutcracker (a famous pas de deux arrangement); when it came time to exchange presents (around 11:30) we all liked our gifts. I knew mine were new sets of the Poldark two mini-series, newly digitalized DVDs with a few features, but Jim and Izzy didn’t know theirs. He loved his Sondheim book of lyrics, brief essays, photographs: Finishing the Hat, and Izzy seemed to appreciate her two biographies of J.K. Rowling to the point that when we returned around 5 am, she took both to her room in the back to start reading.
We worried perhaps we were going too early and to too early a showing of The King’s Speech (see above) when we set out directly after present-opening, but in fact we arrived only 20 minutes before The King’s Speech was to begin and by 12:25 pm when it did the theater was packed. When we got out at around 2:30 lines to get in were long. Mark’s Duck House was the same non-pretentious place, and again my heart sunk a bit when I saw what seemed to be a crowd in front and at least a half-hour wait. But no, since we were just 3 we got a table quickly. The meal was scrumptious: spring rolls, dumplings, peking duck, eggplant, and beef fried rice. My glass of Merlot was fine.
After 5 when we arrived home, Jim stayed in the front reading his new book and listening to the Messiah, Izzy read her book in the back, watched ice-skating, listened to more Christmas music and had the TV on. I watched three more episodes of Barchester Chronicles (for my Trollope project), drank madeira, finished Graham’s Stranger from the Sea.
We were all tired from our efforts on one another’s behalf by 9 pm tonight. Yesterday Izzy had had her third date with Jessie, and came home from the National Gallery with presents; we will go forth to reciprocate with some for him this Monday. And Christmas Eve Jim and I had had our usual long walk, this time to the Masonic Temple to gaze out at Old Town from a height, and then round the neighborhood to see the lights. I had written on facebook:
Twilight walk in our neighborhood & Old Town, Alexandria. We do this each year on the 24th. There were fewer houses with Christmas lights this year and none like a circus, though some houses lit (new occupants?) for the first time. An in-between time, day’s last light when night-time seems to come as peace slowly. Strange picturesque. And then the dark.
And now today our talk had been good and all was kindness and cheer between us, but it was something of an effort as it was (as usual) just us three — and when we were home, the two pussycats. I had managed to post a little to 6 listservs (!) in the morning, and read through a series of essays on Trollope’s Palliser novels (I’m almost ready to write).
I’ve written this blog to keep myself awake to midnight that I might sleep for 5-6 straight and wake up refreshed and ready for Day 2 (Boxing Day).
P.S. For Boxing Day at the National Gallery see “Reveries under the Sign of Austen.”