If a movie picks up a barrow load of BAFTAs and then shortly afterwards walks off with an armful of Oscars, there’s something in the human brain that says “Surely, it just can’t be that good.” After all, awards ceremonies are simply back slapping exercises for a bunch of luvvies, now aren’t they? These were the kind of doubts I had about ‘The King’s Speech’ prior to watching the American Region A locked Blu-ray that had plopped through my letterbox, just demanding to be viewed. The film had a lot going for it even before placing it in the tray of my player - a much publicised performance by the thinking woman’s crumpet, Colin Firth, as King George VI for starters. Then there’s the always dependable Geoffrey Rush as the man who helps him overcome his speech impediment. But they’d have to struggle to make a feature length movie out of that, wouldn’t they?
After the death of his father King George V (Michael Gambon) and the scandalous abdication of King Edward VIII (Guy Pearce), Bertie (Colin Firth) who has suffered from a debilitating speech impediment all his life, is suddenly crowned King George VI of England. With his country on the brink of war and in desperate need of a leader, his wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), the future Queen Mother, arranges for her husband to see a slightly eccentric speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). After a rough start, the two delve into an unorthodox course of treatment and eventually form an unbreakable bond. With the support of Logue, his family, his government and Winston Churchill (Timothy Spall), the King must overcome his stammer and deliver a radio-address that will inspire his people and unite them in battle. Based on the true story of King George VI, ‘The King’s Speech’ follows the Royal Monarch's quest to find his voice.
So that’s it in a very glib nut shell, but it’s not really what this film is about. The central theme here is of a very unusual friendship that began between a King and a commoner that went on to be life long. In the opening sequence, Bertie has to deliver a speech before the heaving masses at the closing of the Empire Exhibition held at Wembley Stadium. The sheer agony of someone with a speech impediment fighting to get his words out in a highly stressful situation is conveyed so convincingly by Colin Firth that you want to finish his sentences for him. He’s not helped by the echoing PA system that multiplies his stammers. So, early on, we get to see the problem in graphic detail and the pain is etched upon Firth’s face.
When Bertie and Logue eventually meet for the first time, the King’s attitude is confrontational and flippant – developed through years of having sycophants suck up to him, but behind it all there is fear. The camerawork is used to highlight the lack of communication here. Normally, if you shoot a conversation between two people you have one person in close up on the right of the frame, looking left, with ‘room for the look’ on the left of frame and you apply the same formatting to the reverse shot of the other person, looking right. Very cleverly, Logue is positioned, looking left, hard up against the left hand edge of the frame with masses of space behind his head – so the shot is unbalanced. The same style is applied to Bertie’s close ups and it makes for a very disorientating effect when our brains are used to the conventional way of shooting and cutting a conversation. As the film progresses and we see them start to understand each other better, the style of the camerawork becomes more conventional.
In any friendship, there are trials and tribulations – and we witness many clashes but eventually Bertie realises that in Logue, he has someone he can trust and who will not let him down. This is another great British story of triumph over adversity – something that, apparently, we Brits do rather well if you analyse the storylines of recent successful films made in the UK.
The film hooks us in many different ways. Initially we’re fascinated to find out if Logue actually does know what he’s on about or whether he’s just another charlatan. Then we want to discover the root cause of Bertie’s stammer and we see the anger with which he rebuffs Logue’s probing – only to be told that while it may well be his stammer, it’s Logue’s field. There’s great wit and humour in the dialogue between the two. Some credit for this is given to the real Logue and Bertie, as Logue’s diaries (discovered by his grandson, Mark) were used as research for the script just nine weeks prior to the commencement of shooting – causing some frantic rewrites. It’s also interesting to note that scriptwriter David Seidler had suffered from a terrible stammer during childhood, so his understanding of the problem went into the screenplay. Well, we’re always told to write about a subject we know.
Many pieces of classical music are used throughout the film, but for me Alexandre Desplat’s (he’s getting a lot of work these days) tinkling, gentle theme is the most memorable. It doesn’t interfere with the attention, nor is it too sombre sounding – striking the right balance for the piece.
Solid performances come from the British supporting cast but Helena Bonham Carter as Queen Elizabeth projects deep love for her distraught husband together with great reserve and awareness of position. Hearing Michael Gambon make a radio speech as King George V was like listening to an old friend, since his voice has been used on so many TV adverts. There’s interesting casting too, of Australian Guy Pearce as David (King Edward VIII) and his English accent is perfectly acceptable. It was great fun to realise that the little girl with the big brown eyes playing the young Princess Margaret was Ramona Marquez from BBC TV’s ‘Outnumbered’ comedy series.
So, after all the initial doubts, did ‘The King’s Speech’ measure up to the expectations raised by the number of awards it picked up? You bet it did - with bells on! This is a cracker of a movie that involves the audience from the outset. At times, your heart is in your mouth and at others you are elated. It’s a very satisfying watch. Sheer quality! Watch it soon!.
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