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Majestic Preview: The King’s Speech and Gnomeo and Juliet

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Showing at the Majestic from March 17th to March 20th is a pair of very British movies, The King’s Speech and Gnomeo and Juliet (in 3D).

Let’s start with the wee tots’ fare.

Gnomeo and Juliet is an animated version of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, which has been through more cinematic interpretations than any sane person can count.  The gimmick, this time, is to tell the story for a younger audience through garden gnommery.  Yes, those little tacky garden gnomes with the pointy hats, who apparently need to make up for the income lost from pitching for Travelocity.

For those deficient in the finer experiences in life, the story is about the doomed love of the title characters, who come from two different, feuding families.  While tension escalates, they dream of escaping their dilemma and being together forever.  Best of all, the star-crossed lovers never get to the let-down stage of normalcy in their relationship.

Like the best of Shakespeare, there’s plenty of death to go around, and it’s the major thing you’ll notice missing in this child-friendly rendition.  Gnomeo and Juliet side-steps this issue in a funny meta-technique, in which the bard (or rather, his statue) is brought forth into the story and told “That’s a horrible ending!”

Central to the movie is the music provided by Sir Elton John, who also was the executive producer.  The lyrics have occasionally been refit to support the story, so the purist might find the presentation grating.  Sometimes, I felt it was lost in the jumble of overloaded visual action.

Voice characterizations are provided by a solid ensemble of British character and costume drama actors, including Emily Blunt, James McAvoy, Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Jason Statham, Patrick Stewart, Stephen Fry, and…um…Dolly Parton.  Oh yes–I’m lying about Stephen Fry.  They must have locked him out of the building, since he seems to be in everything made across the pond.

I think Gnomeo & Juliet is average fare for children–they’ll probably enjoy it but won’t want to get the DVD and play it on endless repeat for the next three mispent years of their adolescence.  Unfortunately, in a trend I’ve noticed with many films, this movie reaches a bit hard for the adult audience, mostly through a series of clever Shakespeare cross-references.  It works for me, but I’m the guy who took the senior Shakespeare class in college for fun, even though I was a math major.

And where the heck was Kenneth Branagh?  I thought he held all the Shakespeare licensing…

Did you know that King George VI had a bit of a speech impediment?  Did you know that The King’s Speech won the Oscar for Best Picture just last month?  Did you know that Colin Firth looks all hunky when his shirt gets wet?  Now it’s your chance to see and judge (except for the wet-shirt, see “see also” below for further guidance).

The trailer lays out the premise of The King’s Speech quite adequatly, so let’s just say that the King (Colin Firth) needs help and he gets it from Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush).  The queen (Helena Bonham Carter, apparently all screamed-out from the Harry Potter films) facilitates their meeting and working together and provide wholesome moral support while the entire country moves into an inevitable conflict with Germany.

Tom Hooper directs, and it’s not surprising how successful this film is given his recent C.V., which includes the mini-series John Adams and The Damned United, which is the best soccer movie you’ve never seen.  In all three films, Hooper displays a fundamental understanding of the historical film form–that when you find the interesting truths about history, you don’t need heavy contrivances to make them engaging for the viewer.  Tell the story and don’t get too cute.

Honestly, I can say that if you’re the kind of person who likes movies like The King’s Speech, then you’ll like The King’s Speech.  If you are one of those people, you know what I mean.  I have a certain weakness for British costume drama, which often has good production values and makes use of a really strong cohort of British actors.  Along the spectrum of British costume drama from the past ten years, The King’s Speech comes solidly in above median–better than The Young Victoria, probably not as good as Romola Sadie Garai’s recent Emma mini series.

The heart of this film is the friendship and trust that grows between Logue and George.  The former is prone to unconventional behavior and therapy techniques, and eventually wears down his patient.  It retread a similar lesson to other films about power, that people in powerful positions are humans and sometimes need friends.

Backing up the central trio is a very solid supporting cast, which includes Guy Pearce, Jennifer Ehle, Michael Gambon, Dereck Jacobi, and Timothy Spall.  Ironically, Ehle and Firth are kept apart through most of the film, since Logue must keep the King’s confidence, but when they do finally share the same space on screen, it’s a nice moment to remember their pairing in Pride and Prejudice.

In short, neither of this weekend’s options is a bad choice and there’s a little something for everyone.

See Also…

The most essential Romeo & Juliet on film is Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 Romeo & Juliet, which won Oscars for Cinematography and Costume Design.

There isn’t really an obvious recommendation I can make for very-young-audience Shakespeare, but most production-code era films are relatively benign, such as those maid by Welles or Olivier.  There are some very indirect Shakespeare adaptations geared towards high school age audiences, such as 10 Things I Hate About You and O.

People who have somehow missed most of Colin Firth’s career until this point should start with the BBC television Price and Prejudice from 1995, which absolutely put Firth on the map.  From there are plenty of other options, only one of which I wish to strenuously suggest skipping (St. Trinian’s).  You should also take in the other role for which Firth would have won an Oscar, in A Single Man.

If you’re new to this whole British costume drama thing and suddenly want more, I might suggest starting something recent and popular, like Emma (2009) starring Romola Sadie Garai, before moving into the obscure, like She Stoops to Conquer (2009).

Written by Bill

March 14, 2011 at 9:42 pm

Posted in Movies

Tagged with ,

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