Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Note on The King's Speech

George VI was not born great. He desperately shunned centre stage and came to be king only on Edward’s abdication to marry Wallis Simpson. Regnancy was thrust upon him.

The King's Speech avoids sentimentality, triumphalism and being inspirational. It avoids them and gets its excellence by confining itself to the story which it tells adroitly and vibrantly, the story's arc clear and predictible, but its many touches along the way of marvellous subtlety.

The movie opens with the humiliating failure of George's perspiration-soaked, self-paralyzing attempt to give a speech; his failures multiply. Misguided treatments make things worse. No one thinks to get at his stammer‘s underlying source. But the film itself, only partially through Logue’s idiosyncratic penetration, drills down to the difficulties in forging and maintaining intimacy given the psychological, cultural and class ridden social obstacles arrayed against it, as, for examples, when George Vth berates his son, when Edward mocks him, and when George’s own children (after his coronation) suppress their natural easiness around him and must needs adopt befitting formality.

Logue must overcome the prejudice directed at him as an uncredentialled Australian. He must confront his own conflicted feelings towards a royalty and the class distinctions that tend to reject him out of hand. In fact, Logue, for all his idiosyncrasy, acts from duty, as does his patient. Duty itself is scathingly inverted in the pernicious, outrageous dilettantism ( "Hiltler will sort it out") of Edward and of Wallis Simpson who, before marriage to Edward, is fucking a car salesman and getting daily flowers from Von Ribbentrop.

Logue’s work is necessitated by the onset of war. In one of the movie’s best scenes, Logue, finally questioned about being uncredentialled, speaks eloquently about how his techniques have grown out of his witnessing soldiers' trauma in the last war.

The King's Speech traces how Logue succeeds with George—he's a genuinely caring professional, albeit idiosyncratic, wanting to help others relieve their suffering. But the war keeps, as noted, the movie from being triumphal or inspirational. We know in fact that George never overcame his stammer. Success is a relative thing, and, as depicted in this movie, is not insulating from further hardship, further efforts, further sacrifice and from causes greater than one's self, the very ground of duty.

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