Sam Strange Remembers: THE KING’S SPEECH

Hollywood legend Sam Strange recalls how he successfully baited Oscar with a king who couldn’t talk good.

Earlier this year, I realized how long it’d been since I went Oscar-baiting and decided to do something about it. I found, however, that many things in the world of emotionally manipulative cinema had changed. I invented this game, but so many had copied my game that I now found myself forced to play my own game by their rules, like when that hotshot Russian chess wizard took on the casually competent Deep Roy computer.

The faux low budgets had risen substantially. The novelty of good actors slumming it financially for the sake of art had become common-place. And there are only so many terminable illnesses and rape-based tragedies out there to exploit. How many times can you soberly examine homosexuality before the homosexuals realize you’re just letting America congratulate its own tolerance? Those guys are smart as fuck.

So I had my work cut out for me. But not really. If misery sells for a time, that means a ton of people were successfully made miserable. It doesn’t take a genius to recognize the value of a happy story when everyone’s about to cut their wrists open. So just make an uplifting movie. They’re even easier than the sad ones. If you can pull it off, the only thing you have to worry about is getting steamrolled by the annual critically acclaimed blockbuster. Those fuckers are wild-cards.

The King’s Speech is just one of those perfect award movies. It has a moving male friendship, illustrates the power of human spirit, features a physical ailment, and takes place a long time ago. It’s timely, too, because, unlike most all the other serious films released this year, The King’s Speech is more or less cunnilingus free.

The plot is all about this guy who’s the King of England, a fictional surrogate for Narnia. As a human being, he’d be a pretty complete package if not for a debilitating stammer. For those that don’t know, stammering is a condition in which the act of saying words causes a severe gag-reflex. A lot of people seem to think this film is about stuttering, but that’s simply not true. It’s about a guy who can’t speak without nearly throwing up. I thought that was made clear with Colin Quinn’s powerful portrayal.

As you can imagine, not being able to speak is a problematic condition for a king. He battles it in many different ways. Some doctors recommend he smoke cigarettes constantly. Some doctors convince him throat surgery is an answer. One snickering college student in a stolen lab coat convinces the king to read Shakespeare with a mouth-full of his balls.

After trying the best, the king’s wife turns to the rest. A tour of fop-houses and insane asylums leads her Donal Logue, a professionally amateur speech therapist played by Roberto Benigni’s older brother, Bertie Benigni. Logue has many qualities all royalty secretly admire and long for in an alley-ally. Namely, he’s poor, unrestrained, and he doesn’t kiss her ass. On their first meeting, he insists that equality is detrimental to the therapy’s effectiveness. It’s his castle and therefore his rules, and rule number one is mutual respect. When she accepts these terms, he smacks her ass and makes her cook dinner. Her body says, “This is an outrage!” but her brain says, “This is the kind of weirdo genius we’ve been waiting for!”

The king himself takes more convincing. Logue doesn’t exactly ease him into it either. In their first sit down, he opens with, “Tell me George 6, do you stick things up your butt when you masturbate?” This throws the king into an outrage. “How dare you ask me such a question! And you will address me as George IV! No one may call me George 6!” But as the rant ends, it dawn on him how many words he got out without almost vomiting.

He’s still not convinced, though, so Logue pulls out the big gun. With lanky confidence, he asks the king to read Shakespeare while listening to the Clockwork Orange soundtrack so loud that he can’t hear himself at all. Meanwhile, he records it so the king can listen later. When he does, he’s shocked by a recitation which sounds far more like Sir Lawrence Oliver than Sir Marlee Matlin. “Okay,” he concedes. “You’re hired.”

They begin training. The king does all kinds of exercises to strengthen his throat and diaphragm. In his free time, he reads Dr. Seuss’ Fox in Sox out loud as often as possible. Like Rocky and Cecil B. Demented before him, he must refrain from all sexual activity.

But his advances as a speaker are negligible. Logue insists that the only way to truly attack the problem is to attack what caused it in the first place. So speech therapy becomes just regular old therapy. We find out all sorts of horrible things. The old king never liked him, his brother made fun of him, his nanny starved him, Aslan once called him a pussy, etc. The king acts all nonchalant about it, but Logue knows better. “It’s not your fault, George 6.”

“I know.”

“George 6, it’s not your fault.”

“Yes, I know that.”

“Hey. It’s not your fault.”

“I—oh, GOD I’m so sad!” The tears burst out of him after decades of repression, and the two men hug for 5-10 beautiful minutes.

Just as he makes this breakthrough, Hitler marches into Poland, and the King is forced to test this new confidence by addressing his country in a time of crisis. It’s the most important speech of his life. He must bring comfort to his people while also alerting them to the difficult realities ahead, a job requiring grace, warmth, and strength. Such a speech delivered on the verge of vomit would certainly send England straight to Hell.

But now that he knows that he is not his fault, the king is up to it. He walks into the microphone room, prays briefly to Aslan, and gets to work. When he’s done, he wipes the sweat from his brow and exits the room to find the soaring applause of a nation transformed. Everyone’s just so happy and proud of the king’s personal achievement. The Polish Jews are especially moved.

(three stars)