Let’s Talk Off-Broadway is very grateful to have received, 2/16/11, from Mark P. Haggard, Guest Blogger, comments on The King’s Speech, written from his humanistic as well as specifically British point of view:  his comments have been added following Yvonne Korshak’s of 12/13/10 …

… We’re all in it together — sometimes …

Don’t miss The King’s Speech.  It’s a wonderful, and through-and-through enjoyable movie.

Albert, the second son of George V of England, has a severe stutter, which clips his wings as a royal prince and causes him immense embarrassment in carrying out his public duties.  In an acutely painful early scene, Albert, in front of a large crowd, struggles to utter his encouraging words at the opening of a new factory — he simply can’t get the words out.  With his earnest desire to do good, his pain at failure, and his good looks we’re totally on his side.

With the help of his loving wife, he reluctantly sets to work with a speech therapist, Lionel Logue, to cure his stutter — hard to say which is more problematic about the rough and ready Logue, his unorthodox techniques or that he’s Australian.  But they struggle through Albert’s aristocratic resistance and oh so human need, on again off again, with breathing exercises, rolling on the floor and some off-hand psychoanalysis (we’re in the mid-1930’s) and make progress.  The friendship between the aristocrat and the commoner that develops in Logue’s run-down consulting room is part of the movie’s appeal.  Even Albert’s wife takes tea at the Logue’s simple table.

Meanwhile, crises are developing on two fronts that make everything that happens more important:  Hitler and his plans for world domination loom large.  And Albert’s father, the elderly King George V grows ill and is facing death.

Prince Edward, Albert’s older brother, as George’s oldest son stands eady to succeed George as King — only, we have to worry, is he really ready?  He’s a self-centered spendthrift in an impolitic affair with a divorced American woman, Wallis Simpson.  King George V is said to have a higher opinion of Edward, who already has two children, than the feckless, and still unmarried and childless Albert, i.e., without an heir to the throne, but that’s not how the succession game is played.  At George V’s death, Edward becomes King willy-nilly … but we’re seeing some handwriting on the wall, so the success of Albert’s conquest of his stutter grows even more important.  Edward, rejecting tactful solutions for keeping a mistress, insists he must marry Mrs. Simpson, a marriage opposed on several grounds including that Edward, as King, heads the Church of England which does not allow a divorced person with a living, former spouse to remarry within the Church (Henry VIII had his marriages annulled).

Another consideration:  Edward and Mrs. Simpson were thought to be German sympathizers, a charge that had always dogged this dynasty of German origin, and to drive the point home, Germany’s Foreign Minister was currently sending Mrs. Simpson flowers on a daily basis;  the British government may well have shoved Edward out of the Kingship, which put Albert into it, although the movie doesn’t take this up.  The upshot is, at any rate, that Edward abdicates the throne to marry “the woman he loves,” Wallis Simpson and they become the Duke and Duchess of Windsor ever after.

Albert, reluctantly, uncertainly, becomes King, taking on the name of George VI for the stabilizing sake of continuity.  At the moment he becomes King, the older of those two cute little daughter’s he’s been playing with in the course of the movie, Elizabeth, becomes first in line for the throne.

The crisis of war with Germany follows fast on the heels of the averted constitutional crisis.  How does Albert handle his kingship, and his communication disorder, in the face of war?  It’s enough to say here that he and Logue have worked hard, persistently, and courageously.  They are ready.

Colin Firth gives an Academy Award worthy performance as the tender, humorous, intelligent, but not intrinsically remarkable man who is thrust into a position of tremendous symbolic influence with the arrival of a national and world crisis.  His rendering of the speech problem, with its frustrations, and waxing and waning, is masterly.  People are raving about Ann Hathaway’s performance as a girl with Parkinson’s disease in Love and Other Drugs but all she does is wiggle a finger or two now then and cry a lot.  In contrast, Firth makes the speech impediment a deep and sustained part of himself.

Geoffrey Rush is charismatic as the rambunctious, compassionate, determined therapist.  One of the underlying strengths of the film is the way Logue’s determination and self-confidence in the absence of “credentials” play off against the tentativeness and insecurities of the man with so many titles to his name.  What a deep sense there is in that of common humanity — and what brilliant movie-making!  There’s lots of laughter in this film, and much of it comes from the timing and antics of the great comic actor, Geoffrey Rush.

Helena Bonham Carter is entrancing as Albert’s loving, down-to-earth — and gorgeously dressed, furred and jeweled — wife.  She positively spells privilege in its most charming allure.  You can all but smell her French perfume.

The movie favors accuracy:  my knowledgeable companion tells me that the techniques of speech therapy are those of the period;  like Logue, a small-time actor, many speech therapists emerged from among actors and other professional speakers who responded ad hoc to the desperate speech needs of many soldiers injured in World War I.  The movie brings to life England in the 1930’s;  it let’s you dwell in the royal world of castles, of lavish decor and food, and of servants who conscientiously hold trays steady while seeming unable to hear scandals unrolling before their ears.  And it let’s you discover, along with Albert, the world of common people struggling to make do, fulfill their aspirations and raise their children.  A keen pleasure of the film is the friendly interactions that occur between these two worlds, all the better that it happens to be true — this time.


The King’s Speech, by Guest Blogger Mark Haggard (received 2/16/11)

The delightfully fitting ambiguity in the two meanings of “speech” in English captures the multi-level appeal of this film.  I write as a late recruit to its audience, having seen it on the night it picked up several BAFTA awards, which endorse its tipping for several Oscars.  The core script is simple:  despite initial resistance and ambivalence of A, B helps him to overcome baggage from his previous life as so to rise to current challenges.  This core formula could work in many different settings, professional and otherwise, and could underpin many differing films of varying degrees of success.  We know the ending, at least in round terms, so the what-happens-next? motive for the audience is not as strong as with other screen plays.  Why, when does this film work so well?  There are many answers, I suspect different for different people.  Leave aside the obvious brilliant acting and some very successful location staging (how did they do it for under $15m?), accomplishments of which all readers must already have heard.  Beyond these, the question becomes interesting.

Foremost must be the momentousness of the events of the mid-20th Century.  Britain fought the Nazis alone for 27 months, or 13 depending on whom you choose to include as effective co-combatants.  After the double shock in 1936 of the abdication of Edward VIII and the German re-militarisation of the Rhineland, the severity with which the Nation and the Monarchy would be tested became evident.  The Duke of York became King George VI, and so became hugely important in the maintenance of morale and the belief that victory was possible, as the nation bled its resources to that end.  The Monarchy became very popular again through its dedication in the years to follow, but the film wisely stops at the successful delivery of the stirring broadcast to the Nation and Empire in September 1939, emblematic of ensuing events.

The King’s Speech helps me understand more deeply than the many books or documentaries had done why, 59 years ago, on the morning of February 6th 1952 a teacher from another class came running into the classroom I was in, tears streaming from her eyes, to announce the death of the King.  The fact that a curious and vulnerable professional relationship between the Duke/King and an out-of-work actor Lionel Logue was so important underlines again, and chillingly, what a close-run thing it all was.  This transfixed me with atavistic emotion for the entire second half of the film.  It is not necessary to be a royalist to experience total suspension of disbelief as this piece of history unfolds.  The identification is not of course with either main character (except perhaps if you happen to be a king or an unqualified speech therapist).  With what then?  That is hard to answer except by saying that, barring the more private scenes of family and therapy which are touching but also funny, the film has an impact similar to that of a re-shot period newsreel, only in wide screen colour and with more time to savour detail.

There are many other bases of excellence that will be more important than an identification with a past cause, to those who do not have reasons of age and nationality to be so sensitive to the historical backdrop.  The period detail is superbly judged and executed, only slightly edged with caricature, as must be necessary to evoke comprehension and recognition by a wide audience of personalities and of differences of in customs or the social order across three quarters of a century.  The genuine difficulties with monarchy as an institution, not just in the superbly captured self-indulgent personality of Edward, are clearly stated for those with an eye to see them, without being thrown in our face.  The diffidence and mistakes of both the unconventional speech therapist and of King George are artfully managed through several on/off fluctuations of the professional relationship to create strong dramatic tensions, released periodically by the humour.  The cinematography uses indoor perspective in palace and abbey, and snow and mist outdoors to impressive effect, without becoming over-mannered.  Choosing Beethoven’s 7th as the incidental music to the climax when the broadcast is delivered was supremely apt;  its grandeur might make it over-obvious for some, but it worked for me as a way of underlining the Olympian moment where all normal realities had to be suspended, as all but the sublime requirement fell away from the focus.  But such long lists become boring.  Well done, chaps!