Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Film Review #23

The King's Speech (2010)
Director: Tom Hooper  Starring: Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, Geoffrey Rush, Guy Pearce, Michael Gambon, Claire Bloom, Derek Jacobi

Certificate: 15  Running Time: 118 Minutes

Tagline: "The nation awaits"

I used to hate the Oscars. Well, not the awards themselves so much, but more the kind of films that used to win them. They generally featured some outstanding acting displays, lavish costumes, and all the rest of it, but they're not often much fun, are they? More often than not they're true stories of someone overcoming some sort of adversity or something like that and I used to actually avoid them, condemning them all as dreary dramas with little of interest. I guess my tastes changed over time though and I realised how many great films I'd passed on simply due to the particular kind of recognition they'd received. Films like The King's Speech, which was nominated for and subsequently awarded pretty much all the major Oscars this year. Ten years ago I would've avoided this film like the plague. Today? I wouldn't say I was super-excited at the prospect of seeing it but I was certainly willing to give it a try. But does it live up to all the hype?

The basic story told in this film will probably already be known by old people and those interested in (fairly) recent history, but to me it was all new. It is a story set almost exclusively in royal circles and has to do with the last king our once great country had. Yes that right, people of my age or less - apparently there was a monarch before the current one and his name was King George VI. The story begins before this, however, when he known merely as Prince Albert, Duke of York (Firth). As the opening scene ably demonstrates, 'Bertie', as he's known to his family, has a severe stammer and his attempts to make public speeches are an ordeal for both him and the listeners. This is not helped by the recent introduction of the microphone which causes him to dread it even more, culminating in his closing speech at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley Stadium.

The resulting debacle finally convinces the Prince to seek treatment for his embarrassing affliction, and after several unsuccessful consultations he is steered towards Lionel Logue (Rush), an Australian speech therapist in London, by his wife, Elizabeth (Bonham Carter). Initially dismissing him as just as ineffective as the rest, the Prince gradually warms to Logue's unorthodox methods and the two become friends. However, after his father, King George V (Gambon) dies and his unconventional brother, Prince Edward (Pearce), ends his brief tenure as king in order to marry his American girlfriend, it's left to Bertie to fill the void, which he does reluctantly. With the threat of another war with Germany looming, the country needs a strong and inspirational king, not a meek, stammering one.

All the talk since this film's release has centred on Colin Firth's performance. Indeed, he recently won the Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role amongst many other awards, so you don't really need me to further convince you of his special magnificence in this role. Suffice to say, it's a towering and unforgettable performance from him. It's actually a little unfair on his co-stars who must all feel somewhat overshadowed. There really isn't a bad performance to be found though. Geoffrey Rush is also on top form as Logue and his scenes with the Price/King are some of the film's best. Whilst they seldom crack smiles themselves, Logue's unique methods will make you laugh often, and the dialogue between them is fantastic.

Equally amusing is Bertie's discomfort at being forced out of his comfort zone by Logue (who insists on addressing him informally), and between 'therapy' scenes the two unlikely friends share less formal chats which shed a lot of light on, not only Bertie's upbringing, but royal life generally as well. The script is great anyway but many of Logue's lines were also quoted directly from the real Logue's notebooks, although there were a few liberties taken with the historical accuracy elsewhere. It's nothing major though and most viewers, myself included, probably won't even notice. The lovely Helena Bonham Carter plays a very appealing future Queen Mum, equally teasing and devoted, and Guy Pearce uses his limited screen time well as Bertie's arrogant older brother. There's even time for Timothy Spall to make an appearance as Winston Churchill!

The sets and costumes and everything else here are also exquisite but it's those performances that'll transfix you. For a man with such a speech impediment, Firth says an awful lot as Bertie, and all without the benefit of words for the most part. It's a testament to his acting abilities that you'll feel his discomfort, frustration, and sadness in every scene. As all the pompous, seemingly unimportant royal and political intrigue gathers pace and suddenly becomes much more pressing and urgent, you'll be swept along with it all and as the climax of the film arrives and the King has to make his titular Speech, you'll be willing him along as well. You may even be left speechless!

RKS Score: 9/10

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