The King’s Speech
At first I started to write a joint post about these films in the interest of time. The 83rd Annual Academy Awards are almost upon us, broadcasting on Sunday, February 27th, leaving just two days to add my two cents before the festivities begin. Then, I started to think about how there is more here than meets the eye.
The King’s Speech and Winter’s Bone have more in common that you might think. Beyond the fact that both directors: Tom Hooper and Debra Granik are making their Academy debut, their films share some interesting similaries. Sure, The King’s Speech is set in 1930s England and centers around the most privileged people in the entire world, while Winter’s Bone is set in the present day Ozark mountains among this country’s least privileged. So, how are they similar, then? You ask.
Both stories center around quietly courageous individuals put into difficult situations by others—one just happens to be in line to be King of England (George ‘Bertie’ VI played by Colin Firth) and the other, a 17-year-old struggling to provide for her family (Ree played by Jennifer Lawrence).
The lives of both of these characters are shaped by their fathers to an extreme degree. While we are all shaped by the experiences we have growing up, I think it’s fair to say that these two individuals have experienced abuse—both physical and emotional—that has very much made them into who they are.
Both Bertie and Ree wear the scars of this abuse and yet they persevere to achieve their goals. In the case of Bertie, his goal is to find his voice to deliver an important speech and in Ree’s case it is to save her house in order to provide for her invalid mother and struggling siblings. In each of these narratives the stakes are incredibly high for the main characters regardless of how many people will be affected by the outcome.
Further, each film explores the advent of a new invention and its effect on society. For early 20th Century England the new invention was radio (“the wireless”) that forced public figures to become, as George V remarks, into actors. In our present context this new invention is crystal meth and in Winter’s Bone we see the widespread damaging effects of its production, distribution, and consumption. These two themes: new technologies and drugs, are relevant to our present day realities and speak to the issues with which our society is currently grappling.
What I love about movies is that at the very core of any film, you can find these kinds of commonalities that speak to universal truths and express current hopes, dreams, desires, anxieties, and fears. It helps when there is also a great script, clever directing, and fitting visuals. Both of these works have all of these qualities and more.
Although I think that Colin Firth delivered a nominee-worthy performance, it is Geoffrey Rush who shines in his role as Bertie’s speech coach, Lionel Logue. He breathes life into his character without overreaching—conveying more with a sigh or a pause than Bertie’s stammering.
Perhaps it’s because of the way the script is written but I felt at the end of the film like I knew Lionel and his motivations significantly better than Bertie’s. Similarly, Helena Bonham Carter delivers the kind of solid supporting performance that allows both Firth and Rush to sparkle. I’ve always been a fan of her performances as quirky and strong females and although more conventional in this role, she also does not disappoint.
While the story is a predictable, feel good piece, it delivered in all of the ways I was expecting and in the end I felt satisfied because of this.
Winter’s Bone was a totally different story in terms of expectations. I had none. I didn’t even know what the film was about until I rented it on iTunes. Imagine my surprise when I discovered this sparse and jarring gem. Another incredible performance by a young woman—Jennifer Lawrence—who portrays Ree with graceful tenacity, another girl with “true grit.”
Winter’s Bone transported me into a distinct reality that, in contrast to The King’s Speech, was almost too realistic. This was not a polished and propped up version of the truth like The King’s Speech, an abstract rendering of the truth like Black Swan, or a mythologized version of true events like The Social Network, this just felt real and ugly and scary.
This film haunts me and I think that’s why I liked it so much.