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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Austenian shadow story of The King's Speech

I finally got around to seeing The King's Speech today, and found it to be even better than my already high expectations based on the clips, interviews, buzz, etc. I had seen and heard during the past few months.

It is an amazing film, a modern parable about the power of love that also seems (to my American eyes, at least) not to have played too fast and loose with historical fact--and it is completely obvious that Colin Firth deserves all the Oscar buzz, and then some.

Now getting to the Austen part of this post. I have had the impression, even before seeing The King's Speech that this film will finally do the job that 2009's A Single Man began, i.e., of enabling Firth to finally shed the burdensome persona of the two characters named Darcy who have defined his public image for the past decade or more. Henceforth, he won't merely be the man who ignited Austenmania to cosmic proportions, but also the actor who was nominated for one Oscar, and then won another two years later.

And I have been wondering whether in some witty way Colin Firth was, during his Oscar acceptance speech, going to give the devil his due, and bring Mr. Darcy into the mix, as a kind of verbal epitaph.

But I had no idea, until the credits started rolling for The King's Speech, that there was a startlingly clever and touching nod to the BBC/A&E P&P (also commonly referred to as PP2) hiding in plain sight in the film all along, a lovely bit of "shadow story" with a very personal Firthian aspect, which brings the legacy of PP2 to a satisfying resolution.

Now I am _not_ talking about the actor who played Mr. Collins in PP2 also playing the stage director who is less than kind to Geoffrey Rush's character in The King's Speech.

If you haven't seen the film and don't want a spoiler about what I saw, then wait to read the rest of this post till you do.

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What I saw in the credits, but which I had not realized while watching the film, was that the actress playing Mrs. Logue, wife of Geoffrey Rush's character, was none other than Jennifer Ehle! Either she was made up to disguise Ehle's appearance, or else she just looks very different than she did in 1995, because while she seemed vaguely familiar, I had no idea it was her.

But what a whole different meaning this gives to the otherwise peculiar moment near the end of the film when Logue (Rush) is afraid for his wife (Ehle) to learn that the patient "Mr. Johnson" is actually the Duke of York/King George VI (Firth). After a big buildup, Ehle's character meets Firth's, and at that moment, the ghost of Pride and Prejudice, which has
come to haunt Colin Firth's career, is officially exorcised, and Mr. Darcy will no longer overshadow Colin Firth!

When I eventually watch The King's Speech again, that will be a scene I will pay minute attention to, to see the expressions on Firth's and Ehle's faces as they shake hands and speak, and to compare that moment to the one when Darcy and Lizzy first meet in P&P--the arrogant aristocrat has become the suffering royal, but the gist of both scenes is about a man from a much higher social position meeting a woman from a much lower one, and yet---somehow still equals as human beings. So the Austenian subtext is actually thematic and not gratuitous, a cinematic allusion worthy of Jane Austen herself!

I knew it was impossible that this was all accidental, and sure enough here is the send-up described in the following link, which I found with some quick Googling after I got home. Enjoy!

Cheers, ARNIE

And here is the text of the above linked article that explains the rest of the story behind the story)

"The King's Speech" director Tom Hooper admits casting actress Jennifer Ehle in a supporting role opposite star Colin Firth was a wink to fans of their iconic 1995 British miniseries "Pride and Prejudice."

Firth and Ehle played reluctant lovers Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet in the wildly popular, small-screen adaptation of the Jane Austen novel. They also enjoyed a brief off-screen romance, as well, but have since gone on to marry other people.

In "Speech," Firth plays Britain's King George VI and Ehle portrays the wife of the speech therapist who helps him overcome a career-crippling stammer.

"We were so lucky to get a double Tony Award-winning actress to play what was pretty much a supporting role and she's wonderful," Hooper told UPI in New York about casting Ehle. "I don't know. Did I think about the 'Pride and Prejudice' thing? There's probably a mischievous part of me that did."

"We had one brief second together," Firth said of working with Ehle again.

"It was lovely to see her," he recalled. "We've always remained amicable and friendly since we last met, but we just lost touch. She's had her family since and so have I, so our lives have gone in completely different directions and I find it extraordinary that we haven't overlapped before, actually.

"But I met her in rehearsals very briefly because we just don't have the scenes together, and she had a lovely little baby with her, and it was very nice. We had five minutes to catch up and that was it; she had to run off and catch a plane. END OF ARTICLE



Unknown said...

Arnie, I recognized Jennifer Ehle right away and was thrilled to see them together like that. Firth was recently interviewed by Piers Morgan on CNN, did you catch that interview? Yes, it is good for him to be recoognized for his true talent in these latest outstanding roles, but I am sure he owes P&P2 a debt of gratitude for putting him out there to the world as the one and only, Mr. Darcy!

Arnie Perlstein said...

Good for you, Teresa, for seeing it was her, I only had the vague impression that she looked familiar, with no suspicion that it was JE.

As I think about it now, who I am most reminded of is the way JE's mother, Rosemary Harris, looked when SHE was younger:

Anonymous said...

Yes, it was crazy wonderful to see them together again! And search for a more recent photo of them together (doing promotion for TKS) to actually see how much she was aged for the role of Logue's wife … wig and aging make-up, but still beautiful.