The King's Speech, 2010.
Directed by Tom Hooper.
Starring Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Jennifer Ehle, Michael Gambon, Derek Jacobi, Guy Pearce and Timothy Spall.
The story of the relationship between King George VI and an unconventional Australian speech therapist.
The first thing I’d like to say about The King’s Speech is I’m not usually a fan of historical dramas (the occasional war epic aside) but there is a lot of buzz surrounding this film. Even on my way to the screening I couldn’t escape it: I was reading Shortlist magazine on the tube and on the fifth page is an article touting Colin Firth for Oscar glory for his performance. Having now seen the film I can see what the fuss is all about.
Firth plays Prince Albert, Duke of York (known as Bertie to his relatives and who later becomes King George VI). Albert suffers from a debilitating stutter that often cripples him when he is required to take part in any form of public speaking. Having tried several remedies his wife Queen Elizabeth (that’s the Queen Mother, played by Helena Bonham Carter) has a doctor recommended to her - Lionel Logue (brilliantly played by Geoffrey Rush). Logue has some very unorthodox methods to combat Albert’s speech problem, something that causes him to lose faith in the doctor and end their consultations. But when he is asked to read Shakespeare whilst listening to music so as not to focus on his speaking his stammer is gone and Logue is required once more.
The consultations between the future king and his speech therapist gradually transform into meetings between friends, but not without the two characters having their differences. The first time they meet for example gives us one of the funniest scenes in the film, a scene that sums up the characters perfectly. Firth’s Albert is pessimistic whilst Rush’s Logue does not seem to care for Royal formalities. When Logue asks Albert what he likes to be called he responds “Your majesty is fine”, to which Logue nonchalantly replies “I prefer Bertie.”
But it’s not all laughs. The seriousness of Albert’s speech impediment is displayed delicately and gracefully throughout to highlight the problem. There is a scene with his brother David (who becomes King but later abdicates to marry Wallis Simpson) where he mocks him which causes his confidence to plummet and takes him back to square one with his progress. Lionel Logue is unfamiliar with defeat and continues to help his royal patient. One technique he employs is to get Albert to swear and sing between words so that he doesn’t hesitate. Although a lot of the scenes including this technique provide humour, it was a genuine tool used by the writer of the film, David Seidler, when he too suffered from speech problems in his younger days.
As the film progresses Logue and Albert become closer, their friendship being confirmed in an emotional scene where Albert confesses to his doctor that he is very lonely and the member of his family that he was closest too growing up was his nanny. This gives a sort of back story and explanation to Albert’s lack of self confidence which is summed up one night at home by Logue’s wife - “Perhaps he doesn’t want to be great. Perhaps that’s what you want.” But the King is determined to overcome his problem and aims to deliver his first major speech as monarch that leads the country into the second world war.
The pre-war context in very interesting, with Winston Churchill (Timothy Spall) making several appearances following King George V’s death. Churchill tells Albert the country needs a strong King which makes him doubt if he can deliver.
The story is played out with a elegant pace and smooth transitions between historical changes allow the narrative to simply flow on screen. That is ultimately due to Firth’s strong performance leading the way. The film is shot within crisp and beautiful royal settings that as well as looking immaculate also bring the audience further in to the royal family and highlight the magnitude of Albert’s problems. Other strong performances by Rush and Bonham Carter help tie everything else together to form a powerful package of a film that is sure to be one of the hits of the festival. And judging by the reception it’s had before it’s theatrical release (January 2011) I’m sure it will be a box office success too.
Jon Dudley is a freelance film and television journalist and his 17 minute short film Justification was shown at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival.
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