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King's Speech and Other Mutters

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Small plays sometimes make big movies, but not all that often. Starting off-Broadway, John Patrick Shanley's Doubt made a memorable movie for the performances of Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman, whereas David Auburn's Proof, starring Gwyneth Paltrow, merely made quite a good one.

Oddly enough, Proof was scintillating in the theatre, Doubt only so-so. I've no idea what David Lindsay-Abaire's Rabbit Hole was like on the New York stage, but Nicole Kidman's new movie version is fairly hard to sit through, and not in a good way. It's mawkish, and looks trite on the large screen. And Nicole is not at her absolute best.

So what chance a small play on the Edinburgh fringe about the stuttering King George VI, even if in the movie the king is superbly played by Colin Firth in a cast that also includes Michael Gambon as the dying George V, Helena Bonham Carter (brilliant) as the first Queen Elizabeth, Timothy Spall (oddly repellent) as Churchill, Derek Jacobi as the Archbishop of Country (nice tousled hair-do, Derek), Eve Best (marvellous) as Wallis Simpson and Jennifer Ehle (anonymous) as the speech therapist's wife?

The answer is: Oscars heaven, probably, though I must say I think the movie's been monumentally overrated by the film critics. It has period charm and lots of classical music (mostly Beethoven) on the soundtrack, but hardly any story.

The crux of it is the awkward "friendship" between Firth's king and Geoffrey Rush's no-nonsense Aussie speech therapist, and this boils down to a rather sentimental lesson in self-belief rather than enunciation.

Okay, so he saves the monarchy and we go to war. And Firth manages to stutter for England without ever becoming tiresome. But this does not a great movie make, and the whole thing feels like, well, a fringe play done up as  a BBC TV special. There's one unwittingly bonkers scene when Firth and Rush go for a walk in Regent's Park and are shuffling in totally different directions through the Italian Gardens from one shot to another.

It's a movie-rich time of year in our house, which is full of BAFTA screeners waiting to be sampled. So far, I've most enjoyed The Fighter with Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale (and Amy Adams, so good as the young nun in Doubt), a really good, authentic boxing movie, and the performances of Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling in Blue Valentine.

Blue Valentine, for all its truth and sexiness in the time-jumping tale of a failed low status relationship, is full of narrative red herrings and holes. But it's very strong stuff, as is Black Swan in which Natalie Portman digs deep for her darker side while fighting for the lead role in Swan Lake; as a ballet movie, this is light years away from The Red Shoes  -- intimately bloody and sometimes hilariously hysterical in a Ken Russell sort of way.    

And I've finally caught up with The Kids Are All Right, a pretty smart take on "modern" family life in which Mark Ruffalo's testosterone-packed sperm donor finds himself sadly deprived of the family unit he suddenly thought he'd stumbled upon after seducing Julianne Moore's sexy lesbian "mum," only spoilt with the odd outbreak of portentous LA-speak.

These last three films all have one striking feature in common: female-pleasuring oral sex. Ryan Gosling goes down raunchily on Michelle Williams, Natalie Portman fantasises a service down below from her chief corps de ballet rival, and Julianne munches down under the bed covers while Annette Bening tunes into the couple's strange predilection for male porn.

There's no such fun and games in The King's Speech, I'm glad to say, but it's no doubt only a matter of time before Hollywood feels the royal family needs bringing bang up to date in the bedroom: What Katie Did Next, perhaps, or When Harry Met Paris Hilton. 



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