Monday, August 29, 2011

Four British Films in Two Weeks

Put them on record before I forget. Two triumphs over adversity, though the triumphs are very different, as are the adversities. In The King's Speech, directed by Tom Hooper, King George VI (Colin Firth) overcomes his stutter with the help of his speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) to speak to his people at the outbreak of World War II. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1 watched on my laptop and Part 2 in the theater), directed by David Yates, the schoolboy wizard (Daniel Radcliffe) manages to destroy the horcruxes and so put an end to the evil Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes).

There are similarities between the films, however. King George VI's speech impediment is pinned by the film on his feelings of inadequacy, in particular, in failing to live up to his father's expectations. Potter too has big shoes to fill, those of his father who was the golden boy of Hogwarts, and who died fighting against Voldemort. He is also the spiritual son of headmaster Dumbledore. Both sons prove themselves true heirs by the end, one inspiring the British Empire to fight against the Axis powers, the other inspiring the British Boarding School to fight against the forces of darkness. Lineage is the sub-text of these two British films.

The other two films also center on sons, but these sons are estranged from their family to become artists. In Brideshead Revisited, the film directed by Julian Jarrold, Charles Ryder (Matthew Goode) is drawn to Brideshead because it is so completely opposite of his home and father. Love Is the Devil, subtitled Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon, directed by John Maybury, does not show anything about the painter's Anglo-Irish background, but its black-out only makes visible the missing family in Bacon's circle of friends and lovers. So here is another myth: that one must disavow one's family to re-invent oneself. It helps, in the re-invention, if one falls in love with someone of the same sex, as Ryder did for Sebastian Flyte (Ben Whishaw), and Bacon (Derek Jacobi) did for George Dyer (Daniel Craig). It helps to break the rules.

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