Colin Firth Delivers Nonpareil Performance As Reluctant Monarch With Speech Impediment
When England’s King George V (Michael Gambon) passed away in 1936, he was first succeeded by his eldest son, Edward VIII (Guy Pearce). But Edward abdicated less than a year into his reign, capitulating to the mounting public pressure to pick between the throne and his scandalous plans to marry his mistress, Wallis Simpson (Eve Best), a two-time divorcee’ and an American to boot.
This development left Prince Albert (Colin Firth) positioned as the next in line, but the heir apparent was reluctant to replace his brother because of his own inability to control a crippling stutter. After all, he was well aware of radio’s rising importance as a means of communication, and that periodically addressing the masses on the air would be among his critical duties as a high-profile figurehead.
Furthermore, having embarrassing himself in front of a large crowd in Wembley Stadium over a decade earlier, Albert had already consulted a world-renowned speech therapist for help with his condition. However, Dr. Bentham’s (Roger Hammond) best scientific efforts had failed, leaving the beleaguered Prince’s saddled with a lack of self-confidence and a disinclination to serve as monarch.
Finally, a ray of hope arrives when word of an Australian rumored to be curing speech impediments reaches Albert’s supportive wife, the Duchess of York (Helena Bonham Carter). Adopting an alias, she surreptitiously goes slumming around a seedy side of London in search of the highly-recommended Dr. Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush).
As animated as he is eccentric, the self-assured therapist confidently lays out his non-negotiable ground rules prior to agreeing to take on ‘Mrs. Johnson’s’ mysterious husband as a client, including an understanding that all the sessions will be conducted right there on the premises in his modest home studio. And even after learning the identity of his new pupil, Logue insists on referring to Prince Albert as ‘Bertie,’ His Majesty’s lofty stature outside the office notwithstanding.
Although initially infuriated as much by the cheeky commoner’s presumptuousness as by his unorthodox methods, Albert gradually develops a grudging fondness for the foreigner when his stutter starts showing signs of dissipating. The arc of their strained relationship serves as the fascinating focus of The King’s Speech, a fact-based, historical drama directed by Tom Hooper (The Damned United).
The film is reminiscent of The Queen (2006) in that it offers a plausible peek at the intimate affairs of members of the Royal Family during a defining moment of emotional and political upheaval. In this instance, the period in question covers the turbulent years after Albert’s coronation leading up to England’s entry into World War II in 1939.
The movie is at its best when highlighting the delightful badinage between Colin Firth as the recently-crowned King George VI and Geoffrey Rush as his not so humble servant, a charming rogue if there ever was one. Still, the sobering specter of Hitler looms over Europe, making Logue’s appointed mission to prepare Albert to deliver a rousing declaration of war without stuttering as much a patriotic duty as an individual achievement.
Kudos to Firth and Rush for generating screen chemistry aplenty in inspired performances not to be forgotten during awards season.
Running time: 111 Minutes
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Rated PG-13 for profanity, mature themes, drug use and teen sexuality.
21st Century Interpretation of The Scarlet Letter Arrives on DVD
Olive Penderghast (Emma Stone) was a social zero who barely registered a blip on the radar at Ojai North High School until the fateful Monday morning she inadvertently started a rumor about herself. Too embarrassed to admit to her best friend, Rhiannon (Aly Michalka), that she’d just spent another entire weekend home alone, she impulsively makes up a story about losing her virginity to a college boy.
What Olive didn’t know, as she shared the lurid details of her imaginary deflowering, was that eavesdropping in a bathroom stall was school prude Marianne Bryant (Amanda Bynes), who began circulating the lie all over campus, leaving Olive saddled with a bad reputation. Curiously, instead of trying to resurrect her tarnished image, ostracized Olive opts to embrace her new slutty persona.
Ostensibly inspired by Hester Prynne, the adulterous protagonist of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, she even sews a red “A” on the corset she wears to a house party thrown by a classmate. And it isn’t long before all sorts off nerds and losers are lining up to establish their macho street cred with the help of Olive, as word spreads that she’s willing to let any guy say he’s slept with her—at least for the right price.
Directed by Will Gluck (Fired Up!), Easy A is actually a lot easier to swallow than suggested by its disgusting-sounding premise. That’s thanks to a script which is frankly so funny it never gives you a chance to come up for air to reflect about the political incorrectness of the brand of humor you’re laughing at.
Additional credit goes to Emma Stone for bringing so much spunk to the lead role of Olive as to make the character credible and memorable, if not exactly empathetic. A feminist variation on a literary classic, which triumphantly announces that in the 21st Century it’s a woman’s prerogative to be the town tramp if she darn well wants to.
Running time: 92 Minutes.
DVD Extras: Gag reel, Emma Stone audition footage, and a commentary by Emma Stone and the director.
OPENING THIS WEEK
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
For movies opening January 7, 2011
BIG BUDGET FILMS
Country Strong (PG-13 for sexuality, mature themes and alcohol abuse). Road flick about a fading country music star (Gwyneth Paltrow), whose marriage ends up in crisis after she and her husband (McGraw) go out on tour with an up-and-coming singer/songwriter (Garrett Hedlund) and a beauty queen (Leighton Meester) just breaking into the business.
Season of the Witch (PG-13 for violence, mature themes and disturbing content). Supernatural medieval fantasy set in the 14th Century and revolving around the exploits of a couple of knights (Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman) commanded by the Church to escort to a monastery the witch (Claire Foy) suspected of casting a spell causing the outbreak of the Black Plague.
INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS
Americatown (Unrated). Spoof about an idyllic suburban oasis whose peace is ruined by a spilled cup of coffee that sets in motion an unfortunate chain of events. Cast includes Jonathan Guggenheim, Cory Howard, Jon Stafford and Barbara Weetman.
Go Go Tales (Unrated). Screwball comedy, set at a cash-strapped strip club in Manhattan, where its beleaguered owner (Willem Dafoe), with the help of his accountant (Roy Dotrice) is doing his best to fend off his creditors, including dancers (Bianca Balti and Shanyn Leigh), his landlady (Sylvia Miles) and his own brother (Matthew Modine). With Bob Hoskins, Pras, Asia Argento and Burt Young.
If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle (Unrated). Coming-of-age drama about a juvenile delinquent (George Pistereanu) just a couple weeks from being paroled after serving four years in a youth correctional facility who, against his better judgment, impulsively decides to hold hostage the cute social worker (Ada Condeescu) he has a crush on. (In Romanian with subtitles).
Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune (Unrated). Reverential profile of Phil Ochs (1940-1976), a prolific folksinger and political firebrand whose incendiary anthems helped fuel the passion of antiwar and civil rights activists during the turbulent ‘60s. Featuring appearances by Joan Baez, Tom Hayden, Pete Seeger, Sean Penn, Peter Yarrow and Christopher Hitchens.
The Time That Remains (Unrated). Black comedy chronicling the creation of Israel from a Palestinian perspective, written by, directed by and starring Elia Suleiman who was inspired by the 1948 diaries of his father, a resistance fighter. With Saleh Bakri, Avi Kleinberger and Menashe Noy. (In Hebrew, Arabic and English with subtitles).