The Weinstein Co.
Geoffrey Rush plays unconventional speech therapist Lionel Logue in The King's Speech, but unfortunately, he's not the focus of the movie.
Geoffrey Rush plays unconventional speech therapist Lionel Logue in The King's Speech, but unfortunately, he's not the focus of the movie. The Weinstein Co.
Much has been written about the Oscar appeal of The King's Speech: It's got a cast the Academy is known to love. It's set against the backdrop of war. Its lead character struggles with an affliction. And it revels in royalty like nobody's business.
But a component of the film that's perhaps less classically Oscar bait — but is still reliably interesting — is the dynamic between the unorthodox teacher and the reluctant student. With that element in mind, the film has drawn what I consider apt, if loose, comparisons to The Karate Kid. In that film, Mr. Miyagi was a character compelling enough to merit an admittedly terribly written sequel wherein the focus was on him, or at least the world he came from.
That got me thinking: What if The King's Speech were about Lionel Logue?
Obvious disclaimers: The film would not be nearly the commercial or awards success it is without the focus it puts on the royal family. And the story it actually tells is compelling, if not groundbreaking from a narrative standpoint.
But part of the reason I was drawn to the idea of Logue as the protagonist is the passivity of the Bertie character. Even after the stinging, brutal embarrassment he endures in the opening sequence of the film, which occurs on such a grand scale you'd think anyone in that situation would move mountains not to have to endure it again, it's initially the actions of his wife and subsequently those of Logue himself that drive the story forward.
Logue sets the agenda and the boundaries ("My game, my turf, my rules," he intones on more than one occasion) and waits for Bertie to catch up, which is fine. But by my lights, at no point does Bertie ever really want to change. Certainly, he'd rather he didn't stutter, but without a certain conspiracy of events (the advance of radio technology, combined with his unexpected ascension to the throne), you sense he would have continued to see the odd therapist and not been too put out about the continued lack of results. There's certainly no visible strain on his marriage, for instance, that's traceable to his continued affliction.
Instead, the film drags him kicking and, if you'll forgive me, screaming toward the finish line. It's yet another disaster at the Accession Council that drives Bertie back into Logue's care — with no adverse consequences, it's worth adding.
Early on, the eventual Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother tells Logue that of course Bertie wants to be cured. What's more, Bertie's father and, later, Logue himself both opine that Bertie is the bravest man they know. But without trivializing the difficulties Bertie endured and continues to endure, it feels like either the characters are telling themselves and Bertie something they all want to believe, or the film is trying to convince us of something that isn't shown.
Of course bravery comes in all shapes and sizes, but still: A man who helped shellshocked war veterans regain speech faculties that were completely lost thinks the Duke of York is brave beyond all others?
This is as good a time as any to talk about Logue's character, as the information that he cut his teeth as a therapist working with those poor victims is reasonably revelatory. Understandably, the film doesn't have time for any emotional analysis of that subject. But it's hardly the only bit of Logue's character that invites further study.
How did Logue's training as an actor pave the way for his approach to speech therapy, particularly the part where he progressively focuses on his patients' psyches, rather than their mechanics? Does he think of himself as a successful therapist, or a failed actor who's found another way to pay the bills? What motivates him most when working with Bertie, and what other desires are in conflict with that drive?
That last question is hinted at when his wife proposes that perhaps it's Logue, not Bertie, who wants the latter to be great — bubblegum wisdom on its own merits, yet a wonderful jumping-off point for character study. (As a side note, one of the reasons I was wishing for more time with Logue is that it would have given Jennifer Ehle more to do. Her performance when she finds Queen Elizabeth in her hovel is sublime.)
On a related note, the film hints that the Australian Logue has endured social discrimination, at least in the acting world. So how does he feel first about working with the King of England himself, and then about Bertie's abandonment of him? The lead-up to the climactic scene has a throw-everything-against-the-wall desperation to it, and the pressure on Logue, while not as high as on Bertie, is considerable — yet Logue never displays a hint of panic. Is he preternaturally calm, or just that good at covering up? Or is he simply able to focus on what his student, and friend, needs at that particular moment to the exclusion of all other concerns? How did he get this way?
In the end, although we've gotten glimpses into the character of Lionel Logue, he remains an enigma. That's no discredit to the film, given its point of view, but I was left wanting more. Perhaps the character traits we see in Logue suggest that he's a little too good to be true (you'll forgive the expression when referencing historical fiction), and as such wouldn't support a film with him as the lead.
Still, there are many scenes that, with no change to the script but with adjustments to the cinematography or merely the editing to emphasize Logue, could feel quite different — and I think just as interesting, if not more so. Of course, that's been true of countless supporting characters in many excellent films. But as I watched, I realized The King's Speech Therapist was the film I really wanted to see. And in this era where the derivative project is — brace yourself — king, I think I'm in with a chance.
John Ramos recently produced the independent feature film East Fifth Bliss, starring Dexter's Michael C. Hall. He also writes at his blog "Pull Up A Chair" and at Television Without Pity. And he's seen all the Best Picture Nominees three years running!