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Wednesday, December 22,2010

A peach of a 'Speech'

Inspirational message comes through clearly in first-rate drama

by James Sanford
The term "the king's speech" implies perfect pronunciation and exemplary deportment, the hallmarks of a masterful speaker who couldn't be more comfortable with the intricacies of English. The man at the center of director Tom Hooper's "The King's Speech," however, is terrified of the sound of his own voice. Instead of demonstrating his mastery of the language, he massacres word after word, chopping them up, dragging them out and rendering them almost unintelligible.

If it's difficult to listen to, it's visibly painful for the speaker: Prince Albert, the Duke of York (Colin Firth), the son of the king of England. He looks every inch the regal, aristocratic figurehead, until he opens his mouth. His voice is bold but broken, thanks to a persistent stutter that causes certain syllables to catch in his throat or stick on his tongue. When this happens, the duke's face freezes up in frustrated agony; a speech impediment is enough of a challenge, but he has the added burden of being a public figure. No wonder when he walks to a microphone to address an audience, he moves as if he was on his way to face a firing squad.



The way Firth taps into the turbulent emotional storm raging inside the duke is wonderful to watch. Fearful, furious and humiliatingly helpless, the duke has resigned himself to lurk in the long shadows cast by his older brother, King Edward VIII (Guy Pearce), and his dismissive father, King George V (Michael Gambon), who thinks the quickest way to set someone at ease is to shout at them to "relax!"


After
spending much of the past decade trading on his charm and wit in
romantic comedies like "Bridget Jones's Diary," "Love Actually" and
"Mamma Mia!" Firth has suddenly re-emerged as a serious actor to reckon
with. His haunting portrayal in "A Single Man" of a gay college
professor in the early 1960s silently mourning the loss of his lover won
him a well-deserved Oscar nomination. In "Speech," he has a slightly
showier role, which allows him opportunities to discover the duke's
unexpressed resentments and recriminations, the secrets that he has
locked away beneath a slightly haughty, buttoned-down fa'ade. When the
duke finally finds the courage to be honest with himself, Firth's
performance builds to a thrilling crescendo: It's as if we can suddenly
see directly into his soul.


Although
"Speech" may sound like a dry historical snapshot or a high-toned
"disease of the week" movie, it's nothing of the kind. If David
Seidler's screenplay takes more than a few liberties with historical
details, the end result manages to be so astonishingly funny and
genuinely inspirational that the alterations are easy to forgive.


Much
of the movie is unexpectedly lighthearted, as the Duchess of York (the
splendid Helena Bonham Carter) persuades her reluctant spouse to consult
with Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), an unorthodox therapist who turns
out to be as iron-willed and demanding as his patient.


"In here, it's better if we're equals," Logue blithely tells a distrustful duke. "My castle, my rules."


The therapy sessions — and the ongoing tug-of-war
between doctor and duke — are marvelously played by both Firth and
Rush, although the elegant, energetic Bonham Carter is every bit their
match as a sort of royal referee who won't allow her husband (whom she
calls "Bertie") to give up.


The
supporting cast is full of sharply crafted work from Timothy Spall as
Winston Churchill, Claire Bloom as a fussy Queen Mary, Eve Best as
Edward's controversial consort Wallis Simpson (seen here as the ultimate
ugly American, a woman so crass she refers to Balmoral Castle as "our
country shack"), Derek Jacobi as an uppity archbishop and Jennifer Ehle
as Logue's amusingly starstruck wife.


'The King's Speech'


opens Saturday, Dec. 25 at Celebration!Cinema Lansing and NCG Eastwood www.celebrationcinema.com www.ncgmovies.com



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