Saturday, 19 February 2011

The King's Speech

At a certain age it becomes rather rebellious to head off to the pictures on a Friday night - and not to the early evening screening either.

Zero and I went to see The King's Speech last night, before we became the only people in the country who hadn't seen it. It is a film that is well worth seeing. The SIGNIS review summarises the film thus:
... here is a period drama that is strong on character and tension, insightful on the monarchy and its crisis in the mid-30s with the abdication and the outbreak of World War II, with George as the reluctant king.
I am not familiar with the detail of the history involved, so cannot say whether the impressions mentioned below are accurate to the true story.

I enjoyed the care that seems to have been taken with sets, a care that seemed to me to communicate very well the sense of the times being portrayed. I liked, too, some of the camera shots of Colin Firth - one particular one stuck in my mind of his face occupying the left hand side of the screen while the right hand side was empty apart from the background view of the room. Colin Firth's acting is superb - as the SIGNIS review says, you really do believe that he has a stammer.

I was intrigued by the portrayal of the Queen Mother (as those of my generation knew her) in the years before George VI became king. She seems to have been rather pushy, and very keen for the future George VI to see doctors to treat his speech impediment. This contrasts in my mind with the image of the gentle, warm figure that are my own memories of the Queen Mother, and with the very popular figure that she was in her later life.

The times being portrayed in the film offer an interesting perspective on the society of our own times. It was utterly inconceivable that the King should marry a divorcee, in the first instance because of his position as head of the Church of England. However, the film also suggests that this would have been unacceptable in both the general social sphere as well as the political sphere. Today, of course, the first in line to succeed to the throne is married to a divorcee and, whilst that has not been something universally embraced, it has not met with the scale of disapprobation that seems to have arisen in the case of Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson. There was some careful choreography (civil wedding followed by Church blessing) in order to respect the position of the Church of England, and of the Queen herself, in the delicate situation it presented; and widespread public support, perhaps based in the comparable marital experiences of many in our society today. A BBC website news report is here.

Another interesting point, shown in the text of the speech that Colin Firth delivers as King George VI on the day of the declaration of war on Nazi Germany, is the acceptability of reference to Christian faith in the public sphere. The speech openly asks its hearers to commit the cause of the war against Germany to God, in the expectation that they will then prevail. A recording of the original is here. In the light of more recent events, it offers an interesting apologia for the engagement in war. I do not think that the relation to Christian faith would be so readily made today.

Oh, and smoking of course. Colin Firth as (future) George VI is regularly shown lighting up, though Geoffrey Rush as Lionel Logue criticises him for doing so, and bans him from smoking in his consulting room on the grounds that it is not good for his voice.

The newspaper adverts for The King's Speech indicate that it contains some swearing in the context of speech therapy. The warning does not give an indication of just how much swearing there is. There is a lot. Whilst I at no point felt that I wished I wasn't there hearing it (when I saw Four Weddings and a Funeral that is how I felt after the first four words, and if you have seen that film, you will know what I am referring to - if you haven't seen it, don't bother finding out), Zero's asking me about it afterwards (I am sensitive about the subject!) has prompted two thoughts. At the time portrayed in the film, such extensive use of foul language would not have been acceptable in public so, even though its use is being portrayed in the privacy of the speech therapy, the extent shown in the film is probably excessive. If less swearing had actually been included, then a more accurate picture of the times would have been communicated. The second thought is about the appropriateness of the 12A rating given by the British Board of Film Classification. This rating says that the film is suitable for unaccompanied children age 12 and above. My view is that the extent of the swearing makes this film unsuitable for the 12-14 year age group, and that it should attract at least a 15 rating. I am surprised that the smoking hasn't made it an 18 in any case ....

Zero didn't feel that this thoroughly English film would appeal to the voters for the Oscars, lacking an appeal to an American audience.

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