Tuesday, 18 January 2011

AFED #17: The King's Speech (UK/Australia, 2010); Dir. Tom Hooper

Everything I despise about the modern cinemagoing experience is embodied within the walls of the Epsom Odeon. It's a cinema for people who have no affection for the art; a soulless monolith to banality where undiscerning patrons indifferently consume the latest overhyped effluence. A workforce of acne-ridden part-timers serve you through forced smiles with nonchalant disaffection...

"Where would you like to sit?"
"Maybe one of those dozen empty rows clearly displayed on your monitor?"
"I know, I'll sit you right next to the only other people in the auditorium."

Popcorn's available with a complimentary dressing of puss but I don't usually partake.

The philosophy of the Epsom Odeon is that films with subtitles, or for that matter anything not produced or distributed by a major studio, are for lefty freaks and weirdos. Homogeny rules and middle England doesn't care to rub shoulders with beatnik metrosexuals whilst escorting their kids to the latest Pixar or Harry Potter.

"There simply isn't the demand for that kind of film," I imagine to be the manager's apology. Of course not when you don't give your clientele the opportunity to experience it in the first place.

It's cinema reduced to an ersatz, flavourless product. One night I might even graffiti it on the entrance:

"THIS IS PROCESSED CHEESE"

Yet it's that time of year - awards season - when even the Epsom Odeon is obliged to show a few films of a little more substance, if only for the want of blockbusters. So it was that I made my first cinematic expedition of the year to catch Colin Firth's Golden Globe winning turn in The King's Speech.


It's the quintessential modestly budgeted British period drama of the sort that have been successfully exported ever since its subject, King George VI, first took to the throne. Charting the late king's relationship with Lionel Logue, the Australian speech therapist who helped him with the terrible stammer that afflicted him throughout his life, it takes us through the tumultuous period of Edward VIII's abdication and the onset of the World War II.

From a frosty beginning the two form an unlikely friendship as Bertie, as his friends and family knew him, lets Logue into his confidence. As such we're given insight into Bertie's profound feelings of frustration and inadequacy when he finds himself foisted into a position he was never expected to assume.

Of course it's impossible to overlook the fundamental conceit behind all this: for all the research undertaken by writer David Seidler we can never really know what passed between the two men. There's a prevailing air of contrivance to their most intimate exchanges that nearly, but not quite, threatens to topple the drama.

The two leads though give fine performances. In the showier role Colin Firth eloquently conveys the nuances of George VI, tormented by his stammer and prone to fits of rage yet also at times regally supercilious and austere. One would assume that Geoffrey Rush had a freer rein in interpreting the character of Logue, who disarms the king with his familiar manner, but for the main he's content to play the foil or straight man.

It's largely a two-man show; something which betrays the script's origins as a stage play. A montage marking the progress of their therapy sessions felt so engineered it reminded me of the parody of such sequences in Team America: World Police.

That said the rest of the cast acquit themselves ably; Helena Bonham-Carter is in her posh totty mode as Queen Elizabeth while Timothy Spall enjoys hamming it up as Churchill. Guy Pearce seemed an incongruous choice to play Edward (although the film's actually an Australian co-production), particularly given he's several years younger than Firth, but performs decently enough.

There's actually very little to find fault with if you can accept the basic premise. Yes, it's all terribly, terribly British but successfully captures a turbulent time in the constitutional history. The most stirring moment comes at the climax as the king broadcasts to the nation after the commencement of war; his struggle through the speech, first faltering but gradually gaining confidence, becoming analogous with the greater one to come.

Listening to it you begin to understand why the British people took him to their hearts... a sentiment that will never apply to the Epsom Odeon.

3 comments:

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  3. Yeah, the key word here is formulaic. All you do is find an oblique angle and tick off the historic events one by one. Minimum effort yet plenty of hacks are only too happy to gush about it while the actors get to fill their trophy cabinets.

    HBC could have phoned in her performance. Far more exciting and alluring when she's playing unhinged characters.

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