THE KING’S SPEECH HAS NO SUBSTANCE

I saw this lush, well-filmed film with a theater full of seniors who watched it in quiet respect—tittering at the witty rejoinders by the earthy speech-therapist (unlikely friend to the king), gasping in delight as the king stoops to visit the middle-class family of the speech-therapist (with his two lovely boys who can recite Shakespeare) and thrilling to the king’s climactic speech to the citizens of the British Empire on the eve of war.

The King’s Speech has received the most Oscar nominations and it continues a trend of intense anglophilia in the American entertainment industry which is somewhat remarkable.

Americans are a good, worthy, and compliant people when they bend their heads humbly before noble English rule, and watching The King’s Speech genuinely produces this kind of contented joy.  I felt the palpable good-will breathing in the audience at the cinema where I viewed the film.

The England of this film is clean and beautiful in a misty, sumptuous regal manner.  There is no drama to the story itself whatsoever, almost as if a good story were plebian and unnecessary in the realm of true royalty.

The film’s dramatics (Hitler on the march, Edward VIII abdicating) is exterior, and a mere glimpsed backdrop, to the plot: royal stammerer is cured by psychologically astute amateur who breaks through royal snobbery and repressed anger to effect a cure.  In the very begining of the film, the Duke of York, and future George VI, played by the dour, but cute, Colin Firth, badly flubs a speech due to his impediment and the result is a lot of handsome English folk sadly shaking their heads.  So there it is: right off the bat; the worst that can happen, happens: royal is tongue-tied in public.  The result?  Some people shaking their heads.  Where’s the drama?  What important thing was the Duke going to say, anyway?  And why should we care that this handsome, wealthy man, with his beautiful, caring, understanding wife (played sweetly and dully by a still-sort-of-hot Helena Bonham Carter) has a speech impediment?

This is why we should care: the Duke’s brother, King Edward VIII, a dashing but sensitive man, and loving the finer things in life, falls for a twice-divorced American floozy, Wallis Simpson (the one figure in the  film who is less than gloriously perfect is an American) and gives up the crown (for “love”), and so the next-in-line Duke becomes king—and must rally his people for war, with speeches telling them they must die for their country.

Some may find the sub-textual German-worship funny.   Two examples: Beethoven’s 7th is used as the film’s swelling soundtrack when Colin Firth, as king, majestically stammers out his big ‘we’re-going-to-war’ speech with dapper Geoffrey Rush ‘conducting’ him and beautiful Helena Bonham Carter rooting for him in the audience, and every British subject, looking healthy and sweet, listening gravely and attentively.  Take away the Beethoven, and the whole thing would fall flat, and secondly, as the king watches a newsreel of Hitler on the podium giving ’em hell, he murmurs, with genuine admiration and envy, his desire to be that good.

The entangled fates of the English and the Germans (Churchill as much of a monster as Hitler, the Nazi intrigues of Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, the British royals actually being German etc etc) is certainly not something this comfortable, Oscar-smelling, anglophilic film could contemplate without biting its stiff upper lip in two, revealing a snarl beneath the velvet: “speech” the arena, here; not substance.

This film features admirable British characters who quote Shakespeare, but The King’s Speech itself, is as far away from the truth and drama of Shakespeare as it is possible to get.

This is not to say the psychological subject of stammering is not a fascinating one, and herein lies the film’s strength, carried admirably forward by the performances of Coin Firth and Geoffrey Rush.

I had a good friend in college who was an acute stammerer.  When he was on stage, however, acting in college productions of Shakespeare, his handicap was nowhere to be seen.

There is no cure.  There is only the speech.  And that’s the lesson.

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