THE KING’S SPEECH
English Title: THE KING’S SPEECH
Country of Origin: Britain
Studio: Seesaw, Bedlam/Momentum
Director: Tom Hooper
Screenplay: David Seidler
Cinematographer: Danny Cohen
Art Director: Evelyn Stewart
Editor: Tariq Anwar
Runtime: 118 Minutes minutes
Prince Albert, the second son of King George V, must give a speech at the closing of the 1925 Empire Exhibition, held at a packed Wembley Stadium. His stammer causes him to fail pitiably. Initially acting under the alias ‘Mrs Johnson’, his wife engages the services of Lionel Logue, an unorthodox Australian speech therapist who specializes in curing stammers. Logue and Prince Albert begin a complex and tempestuous working relationship, and Logue proves invaluable in helping Albert overcome his anxieties.
George V dies and Albert’s older brother becomes King Edward VIII, beginning the abdication crisis that unexpectedly brings Albert’s ascension to the throne. The stress on Albert, now King George VI, increases as he is forced to speak at his coronation and, again, upon the outbreak of WWII. The morale of his subjects depends upon him delivering a crucial nine-minute speech, broadcast live on radio, to the entire Empire.
An Oscar-laden triumph for the recently dissolved UK Film Council (UKFC), The King’s Speech is another of the well-acted, high-end dramas decorated with impeccable period detail of the type that has become a feature of British film-making since the 1980s. The King’s Speech generally avoids the over-seriousness that hampers other heritage films, though, through its strong comic sensibility, there are several good gags and numerous Pygmalionesque scenes of speech therapy.
A film like this will always be judged on the performances of its leads and, by that measure, The King’s Speech is superb. Both Colin Firth as ‘Bertie’ (Prince Albert, later King George VI) and Geoffrey Rush as Lionel Logue give admirable depth to characters that could quickly become cliché-ridden. Bertie could slide into a mess of ticks and tantrums; Firth moulds him into a believable and fragile man whose suffering and self-doubt are unique, but easy to identify with. Logue could dissolve into an absurdly hammy antipodean version of Henry Higgins; Rush ensures he has both strength and fragility. If their interactions occasionally suffer from thoughts that only in a film could an eccentric commoner persuade a staid king to dance, sing and swear his way through speeches, these are dispelled by the conviction with which the sequences in question are acted, and the memory that this is based upon a true story.
The casting is clever. Michael Gambon, with his stage actor’s voice and gravitas, makes the part of George V seem far larger than it is, and makes Bertie’s tales of growing up fearing his father believable. The choice of Guy Pearce, an Australian, to play a king of England feels, at first, an odd one but it enhances the presentation of King Edward VIII as an international playboy irreconcilably different from his overtly English brother. Helena Bonham-Carter, as Queen Elizabeth, has both the haughtiness to play a woman whose snobbishness borders on bigotry and the gentleness to make her charming.
The film falters when it strays into unrestrained solemnity. By the time of the King’s address to the Empire, most of the jokes have stopped and one has the impression that the fate of the free world depends upon Bertie’s ability to give a single speech without stammering. Early on, the film emphasizes the enormousness of the impact Bertie’s speech impediment has upon him, the Royal Family and its inner circle; late in the film the audience are asked to believe the issue seems equally enormous to all the members of a nation that has just declared war on the Nazis. Even so, director Tom Hooper merits great praise for constructing an extended scene of a man standing in a small room talking into a microphone as engaging and emotional as the climactic moments of ‘rise of the underdog’ films with which The King’s Speech shares its structure. Such assuredness pervades the production.
Author of this review: Scott Jordan Harris