The King's Speech (2010) *


I enjoyed some of it, but with some definite reservations plainly not shared by the rapt full house of which I was part. They, for the most part, were either oblivious to or approving of that desperation among all film-makers dealing with the early twentieth century to sanitise historical reality with ill-fitting modern attitudes - especially a kind of cocksure iconoclastic cynicism - that sits ironically alongside the ever more painstaking accuracy with which the past is recreated visually. The silly anachronistic swearing is its most overt blunder in this direction; somewhat more insidious is its revisionism with regards the origins of World War 2, in which I sense definite ideological intent rather than mere dramatic expediency.

Though he has to struggle to overcome his total lack of physical resemblance to the man he is playing - and still more the absurdity of being cast as Guy Pearce's younger brother - Colin Firth acquits himself well in the lead and deserves his plaudits, but the real stars of the show are Beethoven - whose magnificent Seventh Symphony is surely the main reason the ending is as powerful as it is, smoothing over any number of false notes in the sequence's presentation (various characters are shown grinning at and applauding the King's delivery, rather than paying attention to the grim pronouncement itself) - and Geoffrey Rush, in the technically supporting role of speech therapist Lionel Logue.
Well, yes, I suppose he is supporting, in the sense that the arches beneath a bridge are supporting: without them, you basically have rubble. Without him, I'm really not sure how good a film you'd be left with here.

Watching Rush you get that long lost feeling of seeing not just the tricks and effects of some kind of showman, but the effortless embodiment of a role by an actor with the full complement of weapons: voice, body and face. When an actor is not pretty, yet so magnetic that you can't take your eyes off him, then it's a fair bet that what he has is talent.
I was reading an article about Charles Bronson that perceptively noted how his face conveys a powerful sense of a life outside of the movies, a reality, on which to draw and with which to convey meaning. This, by and large is lacking today. What we have instead are whey-faced boy-men, the Depps and DiCaprios and Cruises, who no matter how old they get, never seem able to project any cinematic personality beyond a juvenile one. Consequently they age unnaturally, not as you or I; they seem to stupefy rather; whereas Bronson's visage was a landscape of valleys and crags, weathered by time and experience, Depp's has the frozen permanence of wax fruit. The only alternative seems to be that pool of players who are recruited for villains or quirky, offbeat leads: Christopher Walken, say, or Willem Dafoe or John Malkovich: actors who are accomplished, but technical; they are the ones who wow you in the off-Broadway play, with every smirk and grimace timed and measured. They impress us, especially when next to the nominal stars, but we never forget that what we are seeing is, indeed, performance.
Rush is none of these things, and I had feared that after a brief flash of popularity ten or so years ago that Hollywood had given up on him, or else that he had simply made himself so comfortable from those stupid pirate films he does with La Depp that he had lost any desire for meaningful work. He is natural without striving for naturalism, his eyes are wide and unguarded, he knows when to lead with a look and when with a line, when to step back, step forward, step to one side. It is not merely the consummate professionalism that allows him to take on just about any role that is reasonably within his physical range: there is also continuity there as an actor, in all his work, such as was there to be enjoyed in all of the great stars and character actors of Hollywood's golden age. As well as the embodiment of whoever he plays, he is also at the same time that fellow Rush again: his presence announces a good time exactly like the good time he gave us when last we saw him, a familiarity uncompromised by the added unpredictability that comes of true, unshowy absorption in the role he's playing. And this may be the best, warmest, simplest performance he has yet given.
Thanks to him, the film does not waste your time. But I worry about future generations learning their history from it.