2011

The year that the music star Amy Winehouse died at the tragically early age of twenty-seven and the year that the Occupy movements began in New York and London also marks the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Centre, this was also year that audiences were divided by the Christopher Nolan penned epic Inception (2010), along with the release of the Oscar nominated and darkly captivating Black Swan (2010).

However, the two films that will be addressed in this article are the stunning British bio-pic The King's Speech (2010) and the fringe Woody Allen offering Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008).

The first, the thirty-first film to follow director Woody Allen’s seminal Annie Hall (1977), Vicky Cristina Barcelona is the tale of two girlfriends Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) who take a trip to Barcelona to go on one final girls break before Vicky marries her businessman fiancé. A sexy and seductive picture the film mirrors the wild hedonism of the girls’ weekend in the gorgeous architecture and landscape of Barcelona.

Allen creates a lustful and sumptuous world in which one cannot help but be lured into the trappings of eroticism and hedonism; the girls are drawn to Javier Bardem’s flamboyant artist character Juan Antonio like bees to the sweet, sticky and entrancing scent of honey. As with any Woody Allen piece, however, the course of love is never smooth, rather it is a bumpy, unusual and comedic ride in which the characters take turns in experience that strange outsider awkwardness that Allen does so well.

What truly helps to give Vicky Cristina Barcelona its liveliness are the performances, once again Allen showcases his knack for casting picking four wonderful actors to pair with four equally excellent, albeit a little unlikely, characters. Johansson is perfectly cast as the confident and devil may care Cristina whilst Rebecca Hall’s cautious yet easily lead Vicky is her perfect counterpart. The addition of Penélope Cruz as Antonio’s ex-wife turns this delicious ménage et trois into an even more invigorating and entertaining jigsaw of clashing personalities and un-satiated desires.

The King's Speech on the other hand is a far more subdued affair; telling the story of King George VI, the last King of England who reigned, following his brother’s abdication, throughout the Second World War until his death in 1952. Played perfectly in this piece by Colin Firth, George was a popular King amongst the British people and was known for his rousing and moving public speeches; however, few contemporaneous listeners knew that the man they heard on the wireless had in fact suffered for years from a stammer; it is this that provides the basis for the film The King's Speech.

With a total of twelve Oscar nominations and four wins, including Best Motion Picture and Best Actor for Firth what struck me most about The King's Speech was its depiction of disability, the social stigma surrounding it and the effect experiencing such stigma’s can have on an individual, even when he is King of England. Following numerous visits to countless doctors HRH Albert George Windsor (“Bertie” to his loving wife) becomes frustrated with his family, his staff and himself and believes that, not simply because of his stammer, he will never be a suitable king; however, it is the way in which he grows as a person, not only over-coming his stammer but learning to accept himself for his faults and imperfections that ultimately lead him to becoming a truly great leader.

None of these changes and personal developments could have been achieved without the help of one Lionel Louge (Geoffrey Rush), an experimental speech therapist who teaches the King how to deal with his nervousness and the anxiety that ultimately causes his stammering.

The relationship that develops between Louge and the King absolutely sparkles with charm, the two characters - so notably different in their upbringings, outlooks and ancestry - grow as close as brothers, their differences complimenting one another perfectly. Firth’s uptight yet desperate Bertie is balanced by Louge and his refusal to back down even against the King himself. Couple this excellent partnership with a handful of other gorgeous performances from the supporting cast, including Helena Bonham Carter as Bertie’s wife Elizabeth, Jennifer Ehle as Louge’s wife Myrtle and the scene stealing Ramona Marquez as the young princess Elizabeth and it is no wonder that The King's Speech gained such a tidal wave of critical approval.

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