Sunday, 6 May 2012

Scene On a Sunday: The King’s Speech

Alas, alack - I am busy today, so no new Scene On a Sunday. But, go read an old one from February. Cheers

I hadn’t planned specifically to cover The King’s Speech but I happened to catch a viewing of it, by chance, last week and decided I would. The term “backlash” is one I’m still trying to accurately dissect, each year the “frontrunner” seems to gain counterattacks whilst on the homestretch. Incidentally, fans of The Artist who think that that film is being lambasted should consider how fans of The King’s Speech felt last year. I’m least interested in purported Oscar politics and who deserved what. I will confess, as I’d predicted last year, the symmetry which guides The King’s Speech is one I find to improve on subsequent viewings, and each time I see it – I appreciate it more. There are so many scenes that seem ripe for dissecting, and I was struck this time around at both the little screen-time Helena Bonham Carter gets and conversely the great impression she leaves on me (she'd probably make my top ten this time around, instead of just the fringes).
Set Up: Albert and Elizabeth (under the pseudonym “The Johnsons”) make their way to Lionel Logue’s office for Albert’s first appointment.

Whatever the opinion on its effectiveness, the film’s screenplay is rather story-specific. It’s about Albert overcoming his stutter on the way to becoming king; everything else is peripheral – ever-present in the story, but never truly central. Case in point is the relationship between Albert and Elizabeth. I’d initially planned on covering their single scene alone just after he’s crowned king, especially because as marginalised as the story is in lieu of the main thrust of the narrative it emanates with so much easiness (owing mostly to the cadence of Firth and Bonham Carter) that I’m moved to believe in it, even without any proof of its worth.

Back, to the scene, though.

I mentioned it in my initial review (which doesn’t signify my thoughts now, since I’ve grow to like it significantly more since the first time) I mentioned the symmetry, and I suppose it could be seen as particularly conspicuous, but the way Seidler insists on keeping the story on a single thrust forward, always recalling previous – even innocuous – moments impresses. Their struggle with the elevator above is one of those moments. In Elizabeth’s first visit here, she had the same struggle and it’s funny in a very low-key way how on this, her second visit, she chatters – not quite nervously, but a bit glibly – about what she “knows” of the office. She’s indistinctly giving him instructions on how the elevator works there, a bit that’s so incidental but which amuses me.

Incidentally, I do think it’s a shame that – despite its Oscar nomination – the cinematography for the film is looked down upon (as if it were a coattails nod). Photography, for me, is such an essential element to the story that Hooper is telling. It’s such a lazy comment, I think, to say that the film isn’t a director’s one, as if he’s some sort of hack. After all, it couldn’t have conceivably directed itself. But, I digress. Back to the Johnsons.
          Albert: “Where did you find this physician?”
          Elizabeth: “Classifieds. Next to a “French model, Shepherd’s Market.”
          Elizabeth: “No, he comes highly recommended. Charges substantial fees to help the poor.

          Elizabeth: “Oh, dear. Perhaps he’s a Bolshevik.”
Admittedly, Elizabeth’s character comes off as a bit insubstantial; especially when the film’s ad campaign insisting on it being a trio makes her seem so much more significant than she really is. It’s not, I don’t think, so much indication of Seidler’s faults – just an indication of his general disinterest in definitively mapping out the characters around the main duo. (This might be a fault to some, admittedly.) What this does is make Helena’s creation of Elizabeth both a throwback to her original corseted women (Helen Schlegel grown up) and her more recent Burtonesque creations (Mrs. Lovett if she’d been lucky enough to go off “By the Sea”). She really is something of a mystery, although what we can glean from the relationship between the two is one of affable easiness between them.

         Elizabeth: “Oh, there’s no receptionist. He likes to keep things simple.”
Yet another indication of her first visit with Lionel, although her cadence at this point is less general and more specifically nervous. Because, obviously, Albert’s speech is an issue, and Lionel is rather unorthodox – she’s worried about how things will go. Although, worrying seems an oversimplification – vaguely uneasy, more like it.

          Elizabeth: “The Johnsons.”
The lilt in Helena’s voice amuses me to no end. Obviously, “The Johnsons” is their pseudonym for public use, but it beats me why she chooses to look around before saying it and I laugh at how playful she is here. Which, I suppose, is a nice set-up for this portion of the scene.

(Also, look at those floors! I just love the production design on this film.)

This bit could have easily not worked, or at the very least seemed awfully trite. But, it succeeds for me. Child actor Jake Hathaway is completely delightful, too.

(Also, maybe – maybe not – my favourite shot of the scene. Very standard, yes, but it looks like something out of a book, the King and Queen to be. I love how Helena moves her hand in the next shot, immediately charmed by this child – who hasn’t even spoken.)

          Willie (OS): “You can go in now Mr. Johnson–”
Incidentally, I’ve always found Colin best when playing stuffy, or at the very least emotionally deficient men (The English Patient, Shakespeare in Love, Pride and Prejudice). I don’t buy him as truly happy person, and I love how his posture there is so tight.

         Willie: “Lionel says wait here if you wish, Mrs. Johnson. (On Helena) Or it being a –”

Helena sings in this bit, no words and all. How are we supposed to respond to this bit? Is it meant for humour? Pathos? Foreshadowing (well, yes, but not the main thing). Her expression – half way between amused and moved, is such a fine indication of the actor in the scene being the audience’s portal learning how to respond to said scene.

          Willie: “[stutters] – pleasant (On Colin) day –”    
Honest, Colin’s expression sort of wrecks me there. It’s sort of blank, and yet all sorts of torn.

          Willie: “Perhaps take a stroll.”

        Willie (OS): “Was that all right, Lionel?”

I do not know why, but I do find it a bit reductive when people say the film is a romantic comedy with two male leads, in relation to the relationship which the two men forge, but I might be being silly. I do titter at Lionel preparing his tie for the meeting, though.

          Lionel: “Marvellous, Willie. You can stay here and wait for your mum.”
          Lionel: “Mrs. Johnson.
          Lionel: “Mr. Johnson, do come in.”

Okay, the first shot above is my favourite of the scene.

I love the faux-sombre tone here, the movie is not a sombre one, even though much is riding on this. Also, notice how Elizabeth is sort of shut-out from the two, the film is very much a "boy's one" for better, for worse. And, still, Helena feels so essential to the dynamic.

          Elizabeth: “Would you like a sweetie?”
Probably because those random moments like the one above are my favourite, what a note to end the scene on as the film moves into Lionel and Albert's first meeting.
I remember noting that Helena's nomination was a coattails one, and it was. It's a fine performance, but without the love for the film I do not think she'd have remembered, so I'm happy for little things like that. She's serene, and yet not uncomfortably regal in every scene. This one isn't really hers (it really isn't anyone's) but I love her in it.
Do you remember Helena in The King's Speech warmly? Do you remember the film warmly? At all? Helena Bonham Carter is best in The King's Speech when ______________. This scene is a fine example of the film's ______________. This scene is _____________.


Paolo said...

I just want to begin by saying that The Damned United is one of the best shot movies EVER, so I was kind of disappointed with this movie. But then that's probably the movie's sfumato that got me. Thank you for defending this movie and its symmetry, a quality also shared by TDU. And the floor shots shows how complex the composition lines are.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

paolo the floor shots really are beautiful to me.