film review: the king’s speech, male intimacy and remembering colonization

dear readers,

there’s always a bit of room in the swelling tide of hunger and revolution to still talk popular culture. especially when we connect it to resistance. there’s a great, punchy cinema site called “bitch flicks.” my review of the king’s speech is up there now, but check out the rest of the site for what they do strengthen the tie between women and cinema.

did you see the king’s speech? it’s a winning tale, especially for us artists who know what a deep path it is to get that sound out our bodies, our mouths. i assure you, i was laughing and empathizing throughout the movie. which felt weird, after all, we’re talking about king georges and shit, colonizing india during the very period of the movie. blech. but i address that in the review, probably one of the only (gently) politicized reviews of the movie out there. here’s a peak, and you are invited to read the full review here:

Remembering Colonization in The King’s Speech:

Prince Albert is “Bertie” to his inner circle (Colin Firth), and has a debilitating stutter, but the British Empire needs him to step up into his father’s Kingly shoes (George V, played by Michael Gambon), and be a powerful orator. Bertie’s ability to lead is intricately linked to his ability to speak, particularly as the World War approaches, and the changing tides of technology make worldwide radio broadcasts ubiquitous for all rulers. With quirky but powerful help from speech therapist Lionel Logue (an inspiring Geoffrey Rush), and the charismatic support of his wife (Helena Bonham Carter as Queen Elizabeth), Bertie overcomes his speech impediment and goes on to, as a final title card states, become a symbol of resistance against the tide of Nazism. Or so the movie would have us believe. What’s also true is that The King’s Speech is a lovely, ingratiating film about the lavish family behind a violent colonialist empire erupting in a tide of human protest during the very period of the film.

I live in New York City, and when I went to see the film in Union Square, it had already been nominated for a whopping 12 Academy Awards. It was a packed movie house, and even in the midst of the most diverse locale in America, the audience was almost exclusively older, white couples. To be clear, I liked the film, and I’m not suggesting it needed to broaden its treatment of the King as, say, the British Raj. But if this audience was any indication, most people walked away from The King’s Speech without understanding to whom exactly we’ve been so adeptly ingratiated.

The film is book-ended by two pivotal public speaking engagements for Prince Albert, who later ascends to the throne as King George VI. The film opens in 1925 at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley Stadium, and closes in 1939 with a global radio broadcast declaration of war with Germany. To contextualize this time period, in 1925, M.K. Ghandi had recently been released from a two-year prison sentence awarded by order of the British Raj for his galvanizing leadership in the anti-colonialist Indian Independence movement. 1930 saw M.K. Ghandi leading the galvanizing Salt March through an economically crippled India, a strategic moment in sovereignty struggle. As I watched, laughed, and rooted for Bertie to speak with all his might, I couldn’t help but reflect upon the worldwide impact of his every word. It is always worthwhile to qualify any fawning, particularly in a rather segregated western popular culture market. That being said, The King’s Speech is a loveable film framed around acute performance anxiety, something we can all relate to.

Male Intimacy in The King’s Speech:

Rarely have I seen such exploration, such daring vulnerability in the portrayal of male relations on the contemporary western cinematic screen. Perhaps being the King of an Empire allows for this intimacy, because regardless of how vulnerable Bertie reveals himself to be, he still rules. The King and his unlicensed speech doctor navigate class differences adeptly, heartbreakingly, on their way to foraging the trust needed for Bertie’s impediment to heal. While Logue is humble, he never concedes honor, and it is this adroit balance that allows us to willingly follow where he may take us, especially when the road is audacious (casually calling him Bertie! making the King cuss and roll about on the floor!). For Bertie’s part, it is painfully evident that he rarely, if ever, had a truly intimate relationship with another man. His father nit-picked and neglected him, his older brother demeans him with ferocious skill, and a stuttering would-be King is born. The awards Colin Firth is racking up for his portrayal of Bertie surely have to do with his ability to embody the process by which a rock of defenses sincerely and helplessly cracks open.

Stay tuned for more,

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2 thoughts on “film review: the king’s speech, male intimacy and remembering colonization

  1. you are far too nice to this royalist film.
    “navigating class differences” ??

    there is evidence that he was far more supportive of the nazi’s than is acknowledged in the film — and that even may cost the film some oscars.

    there is a long history of nazi sympathy in the british ruling class… check out the history of jessica mitford’s sister diana
    the film makes it seem like there was only one bad apple. and everyone else is “loveable– quirky– powerful”. hmmmmm

    • politicalpoet says:

      i appreciate your comment, and i hear where you’re coming from, but there is an art to critique, no? my aim is not to judge, but to present multiple ways to view the film, that way folks can make up their own minds. lol, i guess that’s the teacher (not indoctrinator) in me. certainly there were links between the ruling members of the uk and germany, as there are links between the ruling members of most nations, now. does this amount to collusion, is this fact of the matter condemnable? perhaps. but where do we go from there? i like the idea of keeping a conversation going, opening all the while. although i am often prone to the draw of impassioned conclusions, lately i’ve been deeply attracted to the questions. thanks for reading!

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