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Monday, January 17, 2011

Kings' Speeches

My first visit to the cinema for far too long, taking in an afternoon showing of The King's Speech. I heartily concur with the almost universal praise that's been lavished on this film - subtly written, well acted (especially Colin Firth's brilliant portrayal of George VI) and very moving. An odd thought occurred to me, though, which doesn't seem to have surfaced in any of the major reviews. In many respects, The King's Speech is simply a modern-dress reworking of The Madness of King George, with cars and fascism replacing horses and American independence. Just unpick the basic plot: fundamentally decent king with a powerful sense of duty and a supportive, loving wife defies his dysfunctional family, overcomes a major impediment with the assistance of an unconventional therapist, and 'recovers' in time to forestall a major political crisis. The script suggests that this might not have been an entirely unconscious similarity, notably when Firth's tortured king wonders whether he would be remembered in the same way as his famous ancestor, as Mad King George the Stammerer. A pity that the scriptwriter and director didn't take the golden opportunity presented to them in the scene when George VI looks up at the daunting portraits of some of his illustrious ancestors: why not have an image of George III upon the wall, and above all why not one of Charles I, the other famous royal stammerer (whose fate must surely have strayed into George VI's mind, given what had happened so relatively recently to his cousin Tsar Nicholas II?). After all, Charles, too, had been Duke of York, growing up in the shadow of a charismatic elder brother who suddenly left the scene unexpectedly; and Charles, too, ultimately lost his stammer to make the speech of his life, albeit only when he already knew that the headsman's axe was about to end that life. Otherwise, my only quibble with The King's Speech is to wish it had been made on a bigger budget: effectively leaving out the coronation, and trying to get away with genuine newsreel footage of the real Cosmo Lang crowning the real George VI, simply doesn't work.

Aside from thoroughly enjoying the film, I was struck by the size and nature of the audience around me. The (quite large) cinema was virtually full - for an afternoon screening - and the average age of the audience must have been in the sixties at least. Which begs a question...if 'oldies' are prepared to come out in such droves to watch a story that appeals to them, thereby presumably making a great deal of money for all those involved in The King's Speech, then perhaps film distributors, studios and movie-makers are barking up the wrong tree by churning out more and more mindless thrillers and potty-mouthed 'comedies' directed exclusively at semi-literate teenaged and twentysomething chavs with the attention spans of hyperactive insects.

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