February 22, 2011


The Colin Firth starring, Tom Hooper directed The King's Speech is a solidly entertaining film. There are obstacles overcome, a period setting, a cast of fantastic actors and more than a little humour. I don't really see too much more to it than that. Solid, but not Best Picture material.

And this is no bad thing. Too often nowadays we are deprived of decent dramatic films. All too often, what's on at the cinema is pre-packaged and pre-sold and (more often than not), less than satisfying. The King's Speech is a very, very good film. It's not hard to see, though, why the Academy (and BAFTAs etc.) have warmed to it: a little known, true-life tale about a monarch facing a very human struggle; with said royal portrayed by certified British national treasure Colin Firth. Which is not to say I believe it was a cynical exercise in fishing for awards glory. No, you can tell that bringing this tale to the screen was a very real desire to tell this particular story. This is a tale that, before all the awards and buzz, you may have struggled to see the appeal of: it's all about a stammering royal learning to speak properly. "Yes, its got a great cast but boy, I bet we're in for a lot of stuffy English folk standing around, talking. Snore!"

Not so. And, in fact, this is a film I've been looking forward to seeing ever since I first heard of it. What a bloody great, little known facet of history! That King George VI, current Queen Liz's da, was a stutterer and had to consult with an unconventional Aussie speech therapist in order to help lead England through WWII. It's the kind of historical oddity I geek out about a little bit. And the film covers a decent swathe of history; there's two other blokes (King George V and King Edward VIII) who are king before Bertie is crowned.

Colin Firth anchors the film as the Duke of York, Prince Albert (or Bertie to his family), later to be King George VI. His speech afflicted royal is a very human figure; sympathetic but with an angry streak. Giving more than able support (both in his role, and with his character) is Geoffery Rush as the speech therapist from the colonies, Lionel Logue. It's a delight to see Rush out from under the pirate make-up again, and the role seems an absolute natural fit for him. Logue is a failed actor fallen into speech therapy (after helping many of the boys coming home from WWI) and he has an obvious love of language and desire to help those who struggle. He is family man, with a wonderful and joyous interplay between himself, wife and sons. Whereas the stuttering Duke has to contend with a pressuring, demanding father and a teasing, dashing father. 

Thankfully he has Helena Bonham Carter as his wife, Elizabeth (ie. the Queen Mum). Bonham Carter brings her typically quirky approach, making Elizabeth something of a delightful eccentric with a warm heart. Thankfully, she never overdoes it and it makes for her best role in ages. Guy Pearce also delivers another fine supporting role as George VI's brother, the flinty King Edward VIII who abdicated to marry the American divorcee Mrs. Simpson. Pearce is perfectly plummy and his Edward VIII is, despite the oh-so romantic notion of giving up a kingdom for love, a decent example of privilege gone wrong. He is something of a man-child, never willing (or wanting) to take responsibility for anything, least of all a country. Timothy Spall, however, threatens to upend things as a caricature of Winston Churchill. The film has a surprising streak of comedy through it, often cropping up unexpectedly and Spall's Churchill sticks out as simply going too far. 

I also found some of director Tom Hooper's photography choices distracting, with a few scenes looking like they had been shot with an almost fish-eye lens. This caused the picture to look flat and unreal at the edge of frame. This, and other choices such as framing actors off-centre, do however lend the film something other than a stuffy period drama air.

Screenwriter David Seidler, Hooper and the cast have made a commendable film; a film about the struggle of a king, an unlikely friendship and family. There are moments of surprising humour (the soon to be classic swearing tirade) and scenes that are genuinely touching (such as the struggling stutterer giving his daughters - the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret - a bedtime story. The desire to not disappoint his daughters and the creativity and humour he displays really help you warm to him). As I've said, The King's Speech is a solid, well-made and entertaining drama bringing a real historical tale to life. For whatever reason, I didn't find much more than that to it.

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