Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Man Up

In the midst of the slog to finish writing The Book, I am grateful I went to see The King's Speech, which lauds the virtue of perseverance.

Colin Firth (below, nice to see him acting outside of formulaic romantic comedies again) plays Bertie, the duke of York, unknowingly soon to become, upon his brother's abdication, King George VI, father of our Elizabeth (I call her "ours"; we Americans have to borrow our royalty, and we do). Bertie valiantly struggles to overcome his stammer, over and over again accepting humiliation as he obeys his father's wishes that he speak in public.

If grade school oral reports panicked you to the point of nausea, like they did me, you may well relate to the sick look on Firth's face here.
Eventually Bertie's wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter, who dials down her usual keyed-upness), the future Queen Mum, finds him an Australian speech coach, Lionel (the wonderful Geoffrey Rush, below, right).
Lionel operates out of squalid basement rooms, which the camera convinces you are uncomfortable (damp and moldy) yet shows to be beautiful. (The photo here doesn't do them justice. The peeling wall deserves an Oscar in itself.)

The good man comes to the rescue as Bertie, now George VI, is heading toward a stutterer's worst nightmare: his duty, as the king, to speak to the nation and the empire on the radio, at the dawn of Word War II.
And he does it.
Cue Beethoven. (Really. 7th symphony, 2nd movement---it's perfect.)

Virtue comes from vir, Latin for "man," as in "male," not "human."
As a young feminist, I resented that, but I've come to appreciate the special qualities of the male man in some circumstances, such as in the term man up, which I like the way I like original sin: with reservations.

The two are a sort of tag team that name some home truths.
At their best, they comfort and encourage.
This being-human gig is bigger than us, Original Sin says, and we have a tendency to fuck it up. Let us face up to that, Man Up responds, and carry on as best we can.
At their worst, they cudgel and diminish.

The King's Speech comforts.
We, in 2010/2011, are at war, the economy is bad: the times are right for many of us to welcome such comforting reminders of the virtue of the long slog, done well.
(Have you noticed the recent popularity of the British wartime slogan--it was to be used in case of German occupation--"Stay Calm and Carry On?")

Best of all, the film is generous in its embrace: it shows the Queen Mum, the little princesses, and the working class Australians all man up too.
Graciously, it doesn't do it at the expense of the man who doesn't man up to his kingly duties: Bertie's older brother David, crowned Edward. I'm glad of that, because I'd definitely run screaming, as he does, from the ridiculous restrictions of Duty to King and Country (not less restrictive if one is the king, though a terrific scene of Bertie blowing up at Lionel, when the speech coach sits in the wrong chair during the coronation rehearsal, demonstrates that a belief in the divine right of kings helps to bear it).

When Edward breaks down at his father's deathbed, because, he confesses to his brother, "now I'm trapped," he has our sympathy.
"Manning up" is like "staying the course": unless you have faith it's a good course, it's best not to.

Bertie, at least according to this movie, was a lucky man in one way at least: his temperament, if not his tongue, matched his destiny.
Would we were all so lucky.
The real George VI (right) and Queen Elizabeth, meeting air raid victims in London's East End, April 1941.

Oh, did I write, just yesterday, that I couldn't blog because my book is due in 6 days?
Call me Edward.
(I'm not abdicating, just dawdling with my mistress, the movies.)


ArtSparker said...

I'm linking your film review to my film review.

Fresca said...

Thanks, Sparky!
Your amusing and amused review of "The Black Swan" made me curious to see the movie, tho I'll probably wait until it's at a cheap theater or on DVD.

Anonymous said...

I've heard a lot of good things about this movie. I'll surely watch it.

Manfred Allseasons said...

That's my nephew in there, Jake Hathaway, as the blonde cockney boy with a speech impediment.

(sotto voce) Colin Firth is not as nice in real life as he is at the pictures....

momo said...

I went to see this yesterday as a break from grade-slogging, and quite enjoyed it. I was surprised at how much of "the speech" I actually knew because I can't remember where I might have heard or read it.

iloveyoumauralynch said...

Love, love, loved it---moved to the core. One of those 'oh, the humanity of it' experiences, for me at least.

Fresca said...

TINTA: Report back when you do!

MANFRED: No! Was Colin Firth mean to your little nephew! That would be WRONG. Jake was great--sometimes kid actors are too precious, but he was just a regular person.

MOMO: I had a similar reaction--that speech must turn up in other movies or BBC dramas, cause I don't know where else I'd have heard it.

MAURA: It would have been fun to see it together. Maybe if/when it comes to the cheap theater we should see it again.

femminismo said...

I could have waited until the end of time to hear that Colin may not be as nice as he is on the screen! Colin is my Jim Kirk. Oh, well, I'll ignore it and live in my own bliss. Happy new year and now on into the future!

Jennifer said...

Ahhhhh, nooooo, I did not want to know Colin Firth isn't the sweetest darling to ever walk the earth! @_@ I seem to have an instinctive response to scenes of him crying, which is to yearn to enter the screen physically and give the poor dear a hug. He killed me in "The King's Speech," of course. :)

I've been horrifyingly off the grid and reduced to cryptic comments on Facebook, so I missed your last push to finish The Manuscript! I'm really glad to hear it's off, though!