Hey, folks. Capone in Chicago here, with a couple of films that are making their way into art houses or coming out in limited release around America this week (maybe even taking up one whole screen at a multiplex near you). Do your part to support these films, or at least the good ones…
THE KING'S SPEECH
Director Tom Hooper has a real gift for telling historical dramas, whether he's diving back a couple of centuries for mini-series like ELIZABETH I or JOHN ADAMS, or more recent history with films such as LONGFORD or THE DAMNED UNITED. Hooper has a no-frills approach that I fully appreciate and love because he concentrates on the inherent drama of life being lived. But there is something quite unusual and uniquely transcendent about the life being lived in THE KING'S SPEECH, the story of the current Queen of England's father, King George VI (played with the perfect blend of anger and frustration by Colin Firth), whose life in the public eye was a constant source of torment for him because of his crippling stutter.
After a particularly embarrassing public address in front of thousands of subjects, then-Prince Albert (nicknamed Bertie by only his family) went into seclusion, brought out only after his wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) found unconventional speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). The prince and Logue don't get along at their first meeting, mostly because Logue refuses to treat the prince like royalty. For example, the therapist won't make a house call; the prince must secretly come to him. Taking one out of their setting is big with Logue. He also insists on first names only. But eventually the prince makes it back to the office, and their sessions are the stuff of legend, consisting of methods I won't ruin here.
Still, the content of the sessions and the deepening of the patient-therapist relationship probably wouldn't have been the subject of a film without two very important outside influences taking place at the same time: a pending war with Germany on the verge of erupting, and the death of the current monarch, King George V (Michael Gambon), leaving the Prince of Wales/King Edward VIII (Guy Pearce) in charge. With Edward eventually abdicating the thrown because of a scandal in his personal life involving his engagement to a twice-divorced American, Prince Albert was suddenly made King of England, and speech making was about to become a regular part of his life.
The speech referred to in the film's title refers to the announcement to the British people that England was now at war with Germany. It is regarded as the single most important speech of King George VI's reign, and to see the circumstances under which it was rehearsed and given is extraordinary. Between his coronation and this landmark speech, there were attempts by those close to the king to remove Logue from his life by attacking his credentials and results, but the need for an eloquent monarch seems to have trumped all else. I was especially moved by the scenes with Albert and his family (including a brief look at the childhood version of the current Queen and her sister, Princess Margaret), but it's the scenes in which people actually yell at Albert to "spit it out" that are especially heartbreaking.
But THE KING'S SPEECH best moments are, not surprisingly, the therapy lessons, which are as entertaining as they are educational, eye opening and inspiring. I'm a big fan of the buttoned-up Firth, where he plays someone who needs to loosen up just a bit to make his world a little easier. And when Albert does open up to Logue, it's like watching the birth of a life-long friendship (which is what it turned into, with Logue nearby at every major speech the king gave). There's a comforting feeling that goes along with watching their relationship take shape, and both of these great actors are doing some of their best work here. I was especially excited to see Rush putting forth a fully realized character again. I've missed that version of him. I also enjoyed seeing Bonham Carter play a role much like she did in the early part of her career. Yes, she's playing a wife, but she is truly the strength behind this man. As I mentioned, director Hooper tells the story straight and true, but that's necessary because the truth of this story has more twists and turns than most writers would attempt to create in a work of fiction. THE KING'S SPEECH is an exceptional work.
For the most part, I'm a big fan of what director Julie Taymor does on both screen and stage. I don't care what the nay-sayers spout, I really want to see her Spider-Man musical. And although I wasn't a fan of ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, I have liked her other works, FRIDA and TITUS. Now returning to the world of Shakespeare, Taymor gives us THE TEMPEST, starring Helen Mirren in the usually male role of Prospero (renamed Prospera), a magician who enjoys playing with the lives of those she feels have wronged her in the past.
I don't think Mirren elevates her portrayal of the character to the heights that John Gielgud did in Peter Greenaway's PROSPERO'S BOOKS, but she still does great work here. Prospera creates a storm that destroys a ship offshore, but she allows the crew to all make it to her island unharmed, forcing them to wander the enchanted/haunted place while she torments them with her magic. Aided by a freedom-seeking spirit named Ariel (Ben Whishaw) she is also battling a creature named Caliban (Djimon Hounsou), who fights her for control of the island.
Among those stranded on the island are characters played by David Strathairn, Tom Conti, Alan Cumming and Chris Cooper, as well as the stumbling, fumbling fools Stephano and Trinculo, played wonderfully by Alfred Molina and Russell Brand. There's a love story between Prospera's daughter Miranda (Felicity Jones) and a member of the crew, and as you can probably tell from the names I've just unloaded upon you, there is no shortage of great actors on hand in THE TEMPEST. There's also a great deal of the imaginative costuming (from the great Sandy Powell) and special effects trickery that we've come to expect from Taymor.
But perhaps what is most interesting about her approach is that Taymor doesn't go totally overboard with the visuals, instead focusing on making one of Shakespeare's most interesting and dense stories easy to understand. THE TEMPEST is a grim story, uplifted occasionally by comic punctuation from Brand and Molina and the somewhat cheery love story. But since the bulk of the plot emerges from Prospera's anger at the crew, which includes a brother who banished her years earlier, there are quite a few bad deeds to sift through to get the more light-hearted parts. More than anything, the film is a showcase for some truly great acting, an interesting yet modest visual palette, and one of my favorite Shakespeare stories told exactly right. It's a creepy, exciting creation from a true artist.
-- Capone email@example.com
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