Monday, January 31, 2011

The King's Speech

God save the king? No, god save us from The King’s Speech, a harmless little trifle suddenly turned into a twelve-ton behemoth that sucks down awards with all the voraciousness of Godzilla during Tokyo rush hour. It’s all a matter of proportion, really—pet lizards can be cute, after all, but less so when they’re ten stories high with a co-ed’s leg stuck between their teeth. And that’s the problem with this film: its charms only work on a small scale. Focused on the stammering King George VI and his relationship with his speech therapist, the film finds an interesting way into the turmoil of the British ruling class during the 1920s and ‘30s. But the film inflates the importance of this humble story to absurd degrees, turning the speech impediment into a symbol of the king’s reluctance to rule and striving for an allegory of the sovereign finding his voice through befriending the common man (helpfully represented here by a speech therapist—just imagine what could have happened if the king had tried to befriend a cobbler or butcher).

Setting aside the dubious merits of democratic monarchism, this is still a deeply flawed dramatic approach. Meaning we get ludicrous scenes of people applauding and cheering the king’s address to the nation on the eve of war with Germany while the happy music plays, because that’s the logical climax of a story where the most important thing is that someone give a nice speech. Of course, I understand the need for dramatic license, but let’s not lose our heads here. You’d think the start of the Second World War might be a bit of a bummer, or at least a solemn occasion, no matter well enunciated. I mean, how excited can you get over a proper voiced bilabial plosive? Colin Firth may be good in this—his George is finely balanced between being a sympathetic man out of his depth and a spluttering, sheltered royal twit—but he’s still not good enough to stop me from laughing at the film when I shouldn’t. Such is the risk of acting bigger than you actually are. Even at the height of his power, we always knew Godzilla was just some schmuck in a foam suit too.

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