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Popcorn & Prejudice: A Movie Blog

Seattle Times writer Moira Macdonald muses on moviegoing. Email Moira: mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

September 11, 2010 at 2:16 PM

At TIFF: Colin Firth and “The King’s Speech”

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TORONTO — Jon Hamm yesterday. Colin Firth today. A lady could get used to this.
Today began with a lovely chat with Kazuo Ishiguro, author of the novel on which “Never Let Me Go” (and, for that matter, “The Remains of the Day”) is based. Like a miracle, the publicist who brought him to me for the interview (held in a row of hotel rooms at the Hyatt, with the fim’s cast and crew crisscrossing journalists in the hallways; Ishiguro called it “a bedroom farce”) seemed to forget about us, so I got 30 minutes instead of the usual 15 — learning, among other things, that Ishiguro and screenwriter Alex Garland are friends and neighbors, and discussed the idea of a “Never Let Me Go” screenplay long before the novel was even completed; that Mick Jagger was long attached to a movie version of Ishiguro’s “When We Were Orphans” (which I can imagine making a gorgeously atmospheric noir); and that there is currently a musical version of “The Remains of the Day” playing in London which Ishiguro thinks is quite good. This made me want to go to London, immediately, and had me picturing Anthony Hopkins leading a chorus line of singing housemaids, which is not an easy image to get out of your head.
Then off to a public screening of “The King’s Speech”; my first public screening of the festival (as opposed to press/industry screenings, which are by definition insidery and full of mysterious industry types who leave early, particuarly if they are in the middle of a row). I sat in line (yes, there’s a wonderfully accommodating ledge outside the Ryerson Theater), between two festivalgoers who could have gotten into a fight but didn’t, as this is not that kind of line: The woman on my left told me, with some bitterness, that TIFF used to be “a people’s festival,” but now priority for ticket-buying is given to donors, so there’s now a class element, while the woman on my right politely murmured that she was a donor. No harsh words were exchanged and in we marched, and in what’s the best argument so far for attending public screenings, a number of people made the “aaarrrr” pirate sound when the obligatory pre-screening anti-piracy message popped up on screen. This is lots of fun and deserves to travel; I hope SIFF audiences are paying attention.
“The King’s Speech,” arriving here fresh from raves in Telluride, is a wonderful film and I think my favorite here so far: it’s funny, touching, beautifully performed and unexpectedly and appeallingly small-scaled. Colin Firth plays “Bertie,” a.k.a. England’s Duke of York, who became King George VI when his brother abdicated the throne for the woman he famously loved. Though the accession plays a part in the film, it’s more about a friendship between two men: Bertie, a quiet family man with no interest in becoming king, and Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), a speech therapist hired by Bertie’s wife Elizabeth (a.k.a. the Queen Mum, played sweetly by Helena Bonham Carter) to help the unexpected monarch deal with a serious stammer.
Director Tom Hooper (“The Damned United”), speaking to the audience before the screening, said that screenwriter David Seidler (who himself suffered from a childhood speech impediment, and was inspired by the king’s example) approached the Queen Mother many years ago asking permission to write the story. She said yes, but please, not in her lifetime. He agreed, said Hooper, “little realizing that she was going to live to be 186.” (She died in 2002, aged 101.) All I can say is that it’s definitely worth the wait. It’ll arrive in Seattle around Thanksgiving. (Trivia note: “Pride & Prejudice” fans should note the reunion here of Elizabeth and Darcy — Jennifer Ehle, who played Elizabeth in the famed BBC version of Jane Austen’s novel, here plays Logue’s wife.)
A brief but very pleasant one-on-one interview with Firth followed, with the actor drinking a Diet Coke (there’s a man after my own heart) and thoughtfully answering my questions. (He’s not sick of talking about this film yet — Hooper explained that it was just finished “Tuesday of last week.”) Firth described the filmmaking team’s excitement upon finding Logue’s diaries of his work with Bertie, just weeks before filming began (supplied by a descendent of Logue’s) — “like finding the Dead Sea Scrolls” — and told me that one of the film’s most charming scenes, in which Bertie tells a bedtime story to his young daughters, was his own contribution, based on stories he would tell his own children. Charming man, but I’m sure I didn’t have to tell you that.
Off in a bit to see Hilary Swank in “Conviction”; no interviews tomorrow, so hoping to catch four movies in a row: “The Conspirator,” “Love Crimes,” “127 Hours” and “Hereafter.” So I’ll leave you until later, with the words I’ve been enjoying reading on all the subway doors here in Toronto: Be Considerate and Safe. Good advice, on and off public transport.
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(Photos: Colin Firth, top, at Toronto International Film Festival, by Toby Canham. Bottom: “The King’s Speech,” courtesy of The Weinstein Company.)

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