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Au Contraire! The King's Speech

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KINGS SPEECH

In a movie about the British preparing themselves for war against Hitler, surely the symphonic score should not rely on Beethoven and Brahms. Perhaps at the beginning of the film, as a subconscious reminder of the incest that permeates the European royal courts, the fuguers of the Fatherland might make some slight perverse sense. True. Berlin was a mecca for the English intelligentsia into the '30s. But on the occasion of the King of England declaring war against Hitler, under what possible pretext can the filmmakers explain the score blaring the second movement of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony? If it were Hitler declaring war on Great Britain, this score would be sublime. Its contextual use here is tantamount to what Bertie accuses Lionel of in the park: treason. Cinematic treason.

Let's grant that German symphonic music is sort of subversively clever for the first half or so of the film. But the moment war is declared the Teutonic sonics must be challenged and replaced, the theme music abrogated and silenced. What must emerge is a new sound, one we have not heard before, similar in effect to the prince's voice finding its way. What new sound shall dislodge the Aryan presumption of the airwaves? Beethoven is what Der Fuhrer played at his birthday bashes. Look, no one's blaming Beethoven for Hitler. But I doubt somehow that Riefenstahl contemplated playing Scott Joplin under her scenes of the Nuremberg rally in Triumph of the Will. Like Ludwig underscoring Bertie, It's just not geopolitically correct. The King's filmmakers could have gone with almost any other nationality. (Or if Zero Mostel, or say, Robin Williams were playing Bertie, we might have taken flight into a surreal pageant a la Springtime for Hitler.) What about Copland? Foreshadowing the American entrance into the European war. Or, at least those good old home-growns, Williams or Elgar.

For a film to aspire to be Oscar-worthy, to become a future classic, and most of all to be true to its true-life subjects, the music under the king's words must be more than emotional aromatherapy.

The plot's mission is to free the king from the weight of his traumatic past. To hear the king rattle free of his own subconscious shackles at the same time that the film's score remains obeisant to the Aryan strain is a paradox the film sadly cannot comfortably survive.

The action of The King's Speech is to acknowledge, to bring to light, the subtext to the overly scripted royal life the prince has been, reluctantly, cast to play. To watch his heroic personal feat take place in the same film which fails to acknowledge its own musical subtext is to witness a failure to match form to content. The soundtrack becomes a fifth columnist undermining all the king's, and the script's, earnest and for the most part laudatory endeavors.

Audiences are made up of many different types of auditors; perhaps many won't have the foggiest notion what piece of music is playing on the soundtrack; or even that Beethoven and Brahms were German (and Mozart Austrian). But those who listen carefully will sadly find something discordant at the film's scene a faire.