Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Monday, May 09, 2011

The Queen Mother's Day, 2011

Giving my mother gifts at any time of the year is an art and a science. Going out to dinner is a thing of the past, as she’s 87, and not inclined to go out on the town. Jewelry is useless since she doesn’t go anywhere. Clothing – it’s always been a nightmare. Flowers would be great, except she has a garden full already. Chocolates have been ruled out by the doctor.

Big Brother’s idea was to do yard work for her. He needs the exercise; I don’t. Younger Brother, who lives with her, decided the best thing he could do for her was disappear for the day. Since I wasn’t up to the yard work, I had to figure out what to get her, which meant picking something I knew she’d like and that I’d like because she’d insist on giving it back to me (one year, I gave her Band of Brothers – that I never got back and never insisted since she enjoys it so much).

So I gave her the King’s Speech. She’s about the same age as Queen Elizabeth II and remembers King George the VI. His speech was well-known in those days and very much pitied. His brother, Edward VIII, was considered the scoundrel of the times for throwing over his duty as monarch for a twice-divorced American woman. In those days, it was a scandal.

King George VI (“Bertie”) was forced to take his brother’s place, a title the shy, stuttering monarch never wanted. He reigned for only 12 years, dying in 1952 at the age of 56. His daughter, Elizabeth II, succeeded him. She makes an appearance in the movie as a young girl, but this is definitely Bertie’s and Elizabeth’s (the Queen Mother) movie.

And Lionel’s. Lionel, played by Geoffrey Rush, is an Australian commoner who has a way with people who have problems speaking words. He had no degree, but he was a teacher of elocution. After World War I, he developed speech methods for shell-shocked soldiers. He moved to London in 1924 with his wife and three sons and established a speech defect practice.

In the film, it is Bertie’s wife, Queen Elizabeth who seeks out Logue’s help for her husband. Helena Bonham Carter plays the sometimes haughty queen and devoted wife with delicious snobbery and tender understanding. Logue tells her that the treatments will be on his terms and turf. At first, she waves him off but as Bertie’s stammering and anxiety increases with his brother’s abdication, she comes around and brings the Duke of York with her.

This is a performance of a lifetime for Colin Firth, whom we girls remember with relish and adoration as Mr. Darcy in Pride & Prejudice. Firth is a natural in the role of men who must struggle with a challenge. His shy and quiet future King of England bursts forth in frustrated anger and terror at both his lessons and what lies ahead. You can’t help but feel pity for him.

He’s neither above temper tantrums nor snobbery, insulting his commoner (and an Australian at that) tutor several times. Rush is patient and kindly as Logue, never really taking offense at his pupils high-handed demeanor; only analyzing it rationally, trying to get at the root of the royal problem. Although Bertie is reserved at first, insisting on only being treated for the physical problem, eventually he and Logue develop a trust in which Bertie reveals a miserable childhood filled with abuse and loneliness.

In a bit of irony, Jennifer Ehle plays Mrs. Logue. Previously, she played opposite Firth in Pride & Prejudice as the spirited Elizabeth Bennett (bet you won’t recognize her, but the smile is a giveaway). Yet another P&P veteran joins the cast in a minor role, David Bamber. Then there’s the Harry Potter contingent starting with Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Gambon as King George V, and Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill.

Mom grew up during the Great Depression and World War II. It was a time of new technologies, particularly. As King George V observes, the days when a king can just show up are over. Still Bertie’s first speech is a disaster for the Duke and his audience and that’s when he seeks out Logue’s treatment.

Rush is fresh and funny as the commoner teacher. He gives the Duke/Prince/King no partial royal treatment. He’s constantly prying at the royal reserve, making jokes, though never teasing, and always pressing that aristocratic envelope.

Although Mom is a fierce and loyal American, she’s just got this thing for royalty and she loved the movie, much better than she liked The Queen, for some reason. I’m happy to report that her Royal Majesty, our “Queen Mother” gave this DVD her royal stamp of approval for Mother’s Day.

I will not be getting it back anytime soon.

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