The King’s Speech

11 Mar

Director: Tom Hooper (2010)

Sometimes a word or phrase can be said so much that it begins to lose all meaning. That’s kind of how I felt with The Kings Speech. Despite the slew of awards and blanket coverage somehow I never made it along to join the hoards watching this guaranteed winner of a film. And a winner indeed it was, scooping Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress at the BAFTAS and Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars. So understandably, going into watching a film with such accolades it’s going to be hard to remain neutral so instead we ask was it worth the award domination, robbing many other worthy films?

On this count, I am still somewhat undecided but it is overly apparent that this is indeed a great film. The Kings Speech charts the relatively unknown true story of the King who overcame a debilitating stammer to deliver one of the most historically profound speeches of British history, the declaration of war against Germany in 1939. And that is pretty much the extent of the plot. But rather than being reductive, I feel that by sticking to the simple details of the story, The Kings Speech becomes more of a character piece rather than a grandiose piece of historical propaganda about how wonderful Britain is. The truth is, the real hero of the story is Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) , the Antipodean speech therapist recruited by Prince Albert, Duke of York’s (Colin Firth) wife Elizabeth aka Queen Mum, played by the excellently cast Helena Bonham Carter. Having just about given up on any hope of a cure of his terrible stammer, Bertie (to his family) admits defeat and begins lessons with Logue. With startling disrespect for royal protocol, Logue begins the treatment, stripping back the layers to reveal the real cause of his stammer. Surprisingly, its moments where comedy manages to emerge through what is essentially a very moving story; Firth and Rush have wonderful chemistry, making this class converging friendship believable.  But the two only have one, rather imperative goal, to prepare the King for one of the more operative parts of the royal job description, public speaking.

Set against the backdrop of his brother, King Edward VIII’s philandering and scandal in his marriage with American divorcee Wallis Simpson and his subsequent abdication of the throne that led poor Bertie with no option but to ascend the throne, the film presents the right balance of historical with domestic story. We become wholly invested as the days tick away and sit heart in mouth as Bertie walks the green mile of the corridor leading to the recording room that has become his prison where he must live out his sentence and deliver his address.

The greatest success is the realism the script gives the film. Written by David Seidler who similarly endured a stammer as a young boy began writing about the relationship between the Kind and Logue in the 80s but the Queen Mother requested he postpone it until her death. Before filming began, Logue’s notebooks were discovered allowing Seidler to include actual quotation in the final script. It is a touching film, made all the more so by the knowledge of the truth behind it and also the closing title card explaining that Logue continued to be present during King George VI’s speeches and their friendship continued outside royal duties.

Firth excels, as does Rush, providing a stellar cast of British actors and talents that make the onslaught of awards well deserved, if only as a reminder to the film world of the battalion of British talent and a celebration of British pride.

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