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Archive for the ‘Films’ Category

The King’s Speech

My first trip to the cinema this year was to see The King’s Speech. Already the recipient of several awards, the film is nominated for twelve Oscars later this month. And a lot of friends had raved about it, so I needed to find out for myself what all the fuss was about.

I didn’t really need much persuading – after all I’m a huge Colin Firth fan. However, I wasn’t expecting to see him rolling round the carpet, jumping up and down and swearing frustratedly. I wasn’t expecting to see, close up, his face and neck contorted awkwardly as he fought to form the words his character was desperate to spit out. There was a physicality to his performance that was truly awe-inspiring, and I share the view that this is worthy of an Oscar.

My youngest brother has a stammer – though thanks to speech therapy as a child it’s largely under control these days. Since it’s not something anyone’s born with, I suspect it was a legacy of being the youngest in our household. He was taught to project – to speak loudly and clearly – and even now he often shouts as a way of getting the words out.

I would never have thought that silencing the brain by listening to music whilst speaking might quell a stammer; or that singing the words could help – and yet it makes so much sense. I’ve done a lot of singing, with a lot of people, but I’ve never heard anyone stammer whilst singing. The power of the brain is marvellous to behold, but being able to overpower it on occasion must be so liberating. It’s something I’d like to be able to do, albeit for a different reason.

Although this is really Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush’s film, the entire cast was extremely strong. I was surprised to find Guy Pearce playing the older prince, although he was very good.

The abdication crisis of 1936 and the build-up to the second world war is a period in British history that interests me greatly. A few things didn’t quite gel with other accounts I’ve seen, but the only real howler was The Kilt – but how lovely to see Colin Firth back on familiar ground in that scene as the hapless awkward soul so utterly out of their depth – echoes of so many of his other films!

I found this film to be charming and challenging. It was funny. It was thought provoking. It was a joy to watch. I laughed, I raged, I cried. I came out of the cinema a little less of a republican than I went in.

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One evening my mother and I sat down together and watched The Prisoner – no, not the series starring Patrick McGoohan, but a film from 1955 starring Alec Guinness and Jack Hawkins. Set in a post-War communist state whose government is systematically removing its citizens’ freedoms, Jack Hawkins plays a government interrogator whose task is to make the country’s Roman Catholic cardinal, formerly a hero of the wartime resistance, played by Alec Guinness, confess to treason in order to discredit the Church.

The film caused something of a stir when it was first released, and was banned from several international film festivals because of its shocking content – surely this kind of thing could never actually happen in reality, could it? 50 years later and what got to me about the film was exactly how reality has emerged to echo the film – throwing up parallels between the early lives of both Pope John Paul II and the current Pope Benedict, and the struggle by many Christians to keep the faith while religion was outlawed in so many countries behind the Iron Curtain.

This film, made in black and white, has none of the special effects that modern films have. Its depiction of ‘torture’ is almost entirely psychological – there’s no waterboarding or humiliation here – and yet it’s somehow more shocking for that. It’s all about words, and the power of twisting what people say, of repressing their freedom to think and speak their minds. It’s about faith and the human condition, and the strength that someone can get from their beliefs.

It’s a very very dark film, and it’s served with a very interesting twist. My mother first saw this film when she was 11, taken by mistake by her parents who thought that – because that nice Alec Guinness was in it – it would be a comfortable Ealing Comedy. She didn’t understand half of it at the time. Last year she came across it on DVD by accident and remembered the film vividly so bought it to watch again. We watched, and spent a couple of hours afterwards discussing it and agreed that there was a lot of ambiguity as to how much of what was confessed was the truth.

It’s a film I wholeheartedly recommend. I hope that it’s never re-made because I don’t believe modern film makers could do it justice.

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