I saw two movies yesterday, both coincidentally dealing with speech defects of one or the other kind.
First up was My Fair Lady. I haven't read the George Bernard Shaw play upon which this is made but I suspect it's not quite the sugary comedy path this one is contrived along after a while. Oh there's smart humor by the ladleful, yes, and the performances can be splendid at times. Rex Harrison is at his best as the self-centered arsehole who believes he can change the social standing of a person by changing how she pronounces her vowels. Audrey Hepburn endows her tramp turned “lai-dee” with the same elfin charm with which she essays many of her other roles. The actor that plays her alcohol-endorsing pater has some of the most brilliant lines in the film and says them with aplomb. But the film is only interested in milking the theme for the laughs, and stops well short of any real satire. It has a romantic musical element with a wholly bunged-in quality to it – it would have been even alright if the young and dashing, if somewhat vacuous, Jeremy Brett character had got the girl. But noooo, towards the end of an unwarranted 3 hour length (between this and the significantly more watchable Gaslight, I suspect the director George Cukor's watch ran dreadfully slow) we are made to endure the most patently fake and forced onscreen romance, simply because the players are the major stars of the film. Bah.
Next was The King's Speech. Yes, it is about how a man learns to control his stammer to make an important speech. Yes, it is typical Oscar twaddle, mental retardation and physical handicap substituted by the milder speech impediment. But the movie is actually not bad: It plays with an easy rhythm, doesn't try to overdo the drama...and Colin Firth does a very fine job as the stammering royal, beleivable from start to end. His condition is revealed as a combination of both traumatic childhood upbringing and his feeling of inadequacy towards his royal position. It all feels a little neat but who am I to say it's not true? Geoffrey Rush as the unorthodox speech-tutor is not trying to look especially remarkable, which is good because in these sort of two-actor movies that results in a pissing contest over who appears more barmy. Guy Pearce is again wasted in a bit role as the speech-unimpeded brother who abdicates to marry a kitschy divorcee. And since it's practically a rule that you can't have a Brit period movie without a part for Helena Bonham Carter, she plays Firth's supportive wife; unless it's a great make-up job she hasn't aged gracefully and looks like a hag.