There’s just something inherently romantic about a monarchy. Perhaps this is due to the fairy tales we were all told as children filled with Princes and Princesses, Kings and Queens. Perhaps it is the idea that an individual could have absolute power and freedom, thus leading to daydreaming of what we would do if we were in charge. Mentions of Kings and Emperors conjure up eras of historical significance, where warring kingdoms and empires were just beginning to settle into their newfound borders while still trying to expand and conquer. It is probably due to this historical gravitas that Kings and Emperors always seem more impressive than Presidents. After all, someone would much rather hear about the exploits of King Arthur when given the choice between him and President George Washington. This week’s two films highlight the reins of Kings and Emperors.
The King’s Speech
Length: 118 minutes / 1.97 hours
Even though the King of England rules over the British Empire, he isn’t usually referred by the title of “Emperor”. Initially, this monarch was in charge of his vast Kingdom, but as time passed and democracies developed, the King of England was eventually relegated to merely a political figurehead. While much of the British monarch’s authority is now held by the Prime Minister, they still remain for the ceremonies linked to a royal bloodline. In fact, this public persona has managed to spawn plenty of media for tabloid newspapers for many decades, mainly because people are interested in the personal lives of those individuals who will eventually become King. Of course, this means that any scandals in the royal family are brought out into the open for the whole world to observe and judge.
Prince Albert (Colin Firth), is not a great public speaker by any means. In fact, he has a very severe stutter that his wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) thinks could be fixed under the right therapy. Enter Lionel Logue (Geoffery Rush), a speech therapist who attempts to help Prince Albert overcome this speech impediment. While the Prince is unconvinced that he’s making progress, Lionel is sure of it. Meanwhile, after the death of King George V, Albert’s brother (Guy Pearce) takes the throne as King Edward VIII. Unfortunately, because of Edward’s relationship with an American divorcee, he has to abdicate the throne to Prince Albert, thus making him King George VI. Now the most challenging aspect of the King’s reign is the very important Christmas address to the people of England. Calling upon Lionel once again, King George VI prepares for this key speech.
The Last Emperor
Length: 163 minutes / 2.71 hours
In terms of the hierarchy of a monarchy, an Emperor is at the highest tier. Kings are in charge of an individual country, but Emperors rule over any number of countries, each with their own King. An Emperor brings to mind the images of conquering rulers of Rome, but many of the Asiatic nations were led by Emperors as well. These dynasties lasted for centuries, starting before the Roman Emperors and persisting long after the Roman Empire fell. As countries have gained their independence, the Emperors of yore are quickly dwindling away. Currently, only Japan has an Emperor, and it’s more of a figurehead position (like that of the Queen of England). Some countries, like China, have completely abolished the role of an Emperor as they transitioned from monarchies to democracies.
At the turn of the 20th Century, Empress Cixi (Lisa Lu) finds herself dying without an heir. As such, she passes on the rule of all of China to a two-year old boy. This boy, now Emperor Puyi (John Lone), has difficulty adapting to his new lifestyle, as it is different from the one he is used to. Despite many servants and amenities available to him, he has very few friendships. Of those friendships, his wet nurse and a Scottish tutor, Reginal Johnston (Peter O’Toole) are some of his closest. After marrying Wanrong (Joan Chen), Puyi finds himself in exile from China and soon discovers that the underlying communist coup will permanently remove him from his position as Emperor. At this point, he merely wants to live a quiet life, but finds himself as a political prisoner, forced to accept the new China that has arrived, rendering him the Last Emperor of China.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 unique monarchs