Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Kings Speech: a film review with a missional twist

A 500 word (monthly) film review by Steve Taylor (for Touchstone magazine). Film reviews of the most common contemporary films, each with a theological perspective, (over 60) back to 2005 can be found here.

The King’s Speech. A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor
One of my biggest fears at school was the annual speech competition. I found multiple ways – pretending to be sick, skipping class – in order to avoid that moment of terror, the act of public speaking.

Nor am I alone. Studies have shown that fear of public speaking ranks with fear of dying. “The King’s Speech” speaks to these shared levels of primal human phobia.

The movie begins with a man, “Bertie” (Colin Firth). He is alone. He stands in front of a microphone. Slowly the camera pans to a waiting crowd and then zeroes in on the radio dials that signal a worldwide radio audience.

The tension of this primal moment is exacerbated with the realisation that this Bertie is no mere mortal. Instead he is born royal, inheriting the expectation of public performance and proficient patterns of speech. The movie commences to trace “Bertie’s” partnership with unorthodox Australian speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush).

This personal drama is set against the backdrop of other battles concerning public speech. Will “Bertie’s” brother (Edward VIII, played by Guy Pearce), the current King of England, proclaim publicly his love for American divorcee Mrs. Simpson (played by Eve Best)? Will England speak out against Hitler’s expansionist aggression?

Directed by Tom Hooper, “The King’s Speech” works on many levels. The plot skillfully weaves individual pathos and building tension. The scenes of 1930s London are artful, with Academy nominations for Costume design (Jenny Beavan), Cinematography (Danny Cohen), Production Design (Eve Stewart) and Set Decoration (Judy Farr). The acting is superb, with Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter deserving their Academy Award nominations. Australasian audiences in particular will warm to the brash personality and unorthodox tactics of speech therapist, Lionel Logue.

Some critics have been less than charitable, raking “The King’s Speech” for factual errors. They suggest that “Bertie’s” stutter is exaggerated (as if the outward extent has any bearing on one’s inner embarrassment). They see as unlikely the presence of Winston Churchill and an adoring crowd outside Buckingham Palace on the day Britain declares war.

Such comments seem to misunderstand the genre, for “The King’s Speech” is docudrama rather than documentary.

Loss of voice can result from physical damage. It can also result from interior pain. Viewed at this level, “The King’s Speech” becomes a metaphor that enables corporate reflection. Can a nation lose voice? Can a church?

Viewed through this lens, “The King’s Speech” becomes a film for a church camp, followed by a discussion. What might it mean for God’s people to gain voice? If we could speak, what is the one word we might want to utter to our world? What prior patterns and previous memories are stifling our ability to speak confidently?

The King’s Speech suggests that the answer lies in a willingness to facing our pain and a commitment to persist despite discomfort. A message worth hearing, whether for a church today, or a geeky teenager so many school years ago.

Posted by steve at 12:03 PM