A Man for All Seasons (1966)

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If you know anything about Henry VIII, it’s probably that he went through wives like a teenager goes through hashtags.  (Is that a hip, relevant reference – all the kids these days use the Twitter, right?)  In fact, he was so pissed at the pope, he broke off and formed his own church where he could marry, fuck, kill whichever queen he wanted.  I feel like this is totally accurate.

The man for all seasons featured here is actually Thomas More, who is famous for writing Utopia, a book that you may have learned was significant in school but would never actually read.  He also, out of some deep moral feelings, resisted Henry VIII’s crazy moves by… not explaining why he wouldn’t sign on to the divorce/beheading party. I’m not entirely clear on that part.  It’s fine, though, because (history spoiler alert) he eventually joined the beheading party whether he wanted to or not.

As I may have mentioned, I’m a little rusty on royal history.  As evidence of this, I spent a decent portion of the early section of this film wondering why Oliver Cromwell was in a movie about Henry VIII and how I’d learned so little in AP Euro History in high school.  Lo and behold, another Cromwell played a role in British history, and he was apparently related to the Puritan who later ruined Charles I’s day.

I found the first half of this pretty dull, in large part because I had trouble figuring out who was who and what the story was.  Then Henry VIII shows up, and acts in a manner that seems to be now standard for autocratic figures:  he’s downright jovial one minute and spins on a dime to be creepy-scary when he doesn’t get his way.  It’s a little cliché now, but maybe was less so in the sixties.

As Thomas More sits with the decision he’s made – not to support Henry VIII’s break from the Church, but also not to openly oppose him – it gets a bit more interesting.  But it’s never exactly clear what game he’s playing and why he thinks remaining mysterious is the way to go.  Maybe he hoped that he might avoid the king’s wrath by keeping his big mouth shut; on the other hand, if he holds such deep religious convictions, why not own them, even at the risk of his own life?

Sometimes movies appear to be educational, or at least to inspire you to go read a book or something.  I’m not sure whether I care enough about Thomas More to read more about him, unfortunately.  I am, however, looking forward to spending more of my free time reading in the near future.  Or maybe I’ll go binge-watch The Tudors or The Crown.

 

Theme:  King

First Time Watching?  Yes

Final Verdict:  This isn’t Spain

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The King’s Speech (2010)

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“I have a voice,” he says, on behalf of suppressed royalty everywhere.

Royal history is not my strong suit.  I remember some of the big names – Elizabeth I and II, Victoria, some Henrys and Georges and what-not thrown in for good measure – but the order is a bit mixed up.  I tend to forget about the ones who didn’t have eras named after them, and quite possibly never even knew who reigned during the big wars of the twentieth century.  (How often have we heard about Winston Churchill and Neville Chamberlain; far rarer did we hear of the king’s role.)  I’ve also just spent the last twenty minutes meandering through Wikipedia’s lists of British monarchs.  Unsurprisingly, I did not end up on the page for George VI.

This film is in the genre of “moderately interesting historical story where nothing particularly unexpected happens but maybe you learn a bit more about a significant event.”  The plot is quite simple:  king meets speech therapist, king nearly fires speech therapist, king makes speech.

The speech in question is the king’s announcement of Britain’s entrance into war with Germany, live on radio to the entire nation.  Problem is, the king has had a lifelong stammer, and would have been spared the duties of the king if only his flaky brother hadn’t abdicated the throne to run off with his American divorcee girlfriend (another story I knew nothing about until suddenly Madonna made a movie about it).  Spoiler alert:  he makes the speech.

One of the things I’d hoped to better understand after watching a large number of award-winning films was the three-act structure.  I’ve read about it in various contexts, in both screenwriting and other types of stories.  However, I’ve watched movies for years without being conscious of the structure, and even after learning that it exists as a pretty standard structure, I still have trouble recognizing where those acts begin and end.

I’m not sure whether my skill has improved, but this movie’s structure seems pretty formulaic.  Of course, King Bertie first has an antagonistic relationship with his speech therapist Lionel.  Of course, they have a moment where Lionel is revealed to be not what he seemed, thereby threatening the entire relationship.  And of course, the king ends up succeeding in his important speech and sharing a creepy nod across the room with Lionel, before the latter fades mysteriously into the background, like any other Yoda-like figure.

The difficulty with films based on real events is that, even if you don’t know the particulars of the story, you have a general sense that things turned out okay.  We know coming into it that they wouldn’t have made a movie if the speech was a disaster and it somehow made Britain lose the war against Hitler.  Maybe you don’t need shocking twists to stay engaged with a movie, but then again, it’s hard to be passionate about something so bland.  It’s not a terrible movie – even fun in a few places – but neither does it affect me in any deep way.  Now, Hamilton’s King George III – that’s a king that’ll stick with you!

 

Theme:  King

First Time Watching?  No

Final Verdict:   Positively medieval