Posts Tagged ‘King’s Speech’

Dear friends and readers,

I meant to write about this beautiful moving and significant film earlier this week but each evening I found I could read so made no new blogs — or I collapsed into sleep. Tonight I’m awake but not able to read: a perfect time to urge everyone who comes here to go see Biutiful starring Javier Bardem, directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. My daughter, Izzy, has written eloquently about it in her blog. She describes its core, shape and premises aptly:

This is the kind of film that wrenches out what uplift it can from a dark premise, by focusing on the redemptive side of a brutal man.

the portrait unfolds of the Javier Bardem’s character …and of the Barcelona underworld he lives in, everything driven by the bundles of paper money the camera continually focuses on for us, as he lets terrible things happen to the vulnerable immigrants who depend on his aid, because he didn’t care about the danger until they did happen, and he sure repents afterward but they still happened. Yet it’s as kind a portrait as can be managed, tempered by his love for his two children, and by his behaving better than most of the men around him. Topped with a little irony; he also communes with the recently dead for money, and at the beginning of the movie is accused of being a fraud, but we the audience sees his ability is genuine, and so the ones who don’t trust him(the dead’s families) should, and those who do(the immigrants) shouldn’t

Iñárritu also made Babel. Like Babel, it’s an important expose of the ravages of vast groups of people preying on one another as they attempt to survive in a land devastated by ruthless capitalism. Uxbal (Bardem’s fictional name) is a peculiar kind of hero who is making it by managing a drug-selling ring, managing trafficking in Chinese workers, paying rotten police: he reminded me in character of Graham’s Ross Poldark — faithful to his children for whom he provides tenderly,

Eating with them

Helping his daughter with her homework; he dies lying next to this girl who unlike her mother can face with him and thus see how ill her father is

He nonetheless loves his wife, whom he attempts to return to, but she is a weak emotionally unstable woman, who has not got the self-control to deal with her children and whose idea of profitable fun is to let herself get drunk and prostitute herself:

He means well by his workers (although, like Ross Poldark, he fails them in this case by asphixiating them because when he wants to provide heat he ends up killing them because he buys such cheap heaters). We see how immigrants are exploited and used, beat up, given no chance. The film’s mise-en-scene is built of perpetual poverty, bleakness, with the only relief a garish nightclub where rough sex is for sale, and Maramba’s modernist high up in a Barcelona apartment house where one can walk out in a balcony to be surrounded by sky.

The important difference is he has none of the Poldark’s high principles or hopes. In his pitfully minimalist goals we can measure the distance between the norms of the world of the 1940s and 70s (when the Poldark novels and then mini-series were made) and the world of the 1990s and 2011 (when the memoir upon which this film is based and it’s been filmed). The nobility here is in the faithful kind intentions in a world hopelessly without any joy. As I lay sleeping that night we came home, I thought about how Uxbal’s wife, Maramba (Maricel Álvarez), like the characters in Another Year yearns to go on vacation as if this time in another parallel spot can make up for 52 weeks of venal doings, sordid human exchanges. She too ends up going on vacation herself as Uxbal can’t take out the time.

He is throughout the film dying. Early on he learns he has inoperable liver cancer; we watch his face, cope with (by chemotherapy, by an unexplained woman who may be his fortune-teller to whom he is obedient) and grow painfully thin, unable to have sex and too proud to show his wife who (probably) he is unwilling to tell. One of the saddest moments is of him near a toilet in a kind of diaper. As Izzy says, in its beginning is its end: a vision of his father when young in the wood, a dream; its center is him grieving over his father’s corpse, brought back from Mexico and now cremated because he can’t spare the ground, but must sell it to a thieving construction contractor. As Izzy says, the final fate of his familiy remains dubious. His wife is put back into an asylum. He gives all his money to the wife of an African man who he has rescued from a filthy hole in the street; for a few moments near the end of the film it seems as if she will flee back to Africa with it, but (much to my genuine relief), she changes her mind. Her husband did not want her to return and she is actually better off with her baby in the apartment provided by Uxbal for his two children.

Inevitably we compared it to Colin Firth and The King’s Speech: after all the film is in circulation because Barden has been nominated for best actor in competition with Firth. I don’t which actor delivers the better performance. I do know this movie as a critique of our world’s social, sexual, economic, political arrangements shows up all the flaws of The King’s Speech as hopelessly pious pro-monarchical reverence for people who were never the way they are idealistically portrayed.


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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.

The microphone is a central image repeated from the opening sequence to the close: it’s what demanded of this man with a stammer, that he speak out into it

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

Helena Bonham Carter was Elizabeth, George VI’s wife

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

Jennifer Ehle recently

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:

Jacobi steals this scene (Ely Cathedral stood in for Westminster Abbey)

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:

Logue and Bertie walking in the park together

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.”

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