Review – The King’s Speech (2010)

The King’s Speech [2010]

Starring: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, Michael Gambon, Claire Bloom, Orlando Wells, Derek Jacobi, Jennifer Ehle, Eve Best, Timothy Spall, Anthony Andrews
Director: Tom Hooper
Screenwriter: David Seidler

I can’t imagine what it must be like to be born into royalty. That kind of life, for all the material wealth it provides, must be in so many ways devoid of any real human interaction. It’s a world that is so distant from “commoners” that imagining the rigidity of daily life is almost incomprehensible. Even more so are the expectations put upon each individual within that family. It is with this in mind that The King’s Speech develops itself. It is, as many have said, a rousing crowd pleaser. But to dismiss it as just that misses the point entirely. The film, acted with perfection and deftly scripted and directed, slowly reveals itself as a beautifully observant story of friendship between two unlikely men.

Colin Firth, in what is as flawless a performance as any I have seen, plays Albert, the Duke of York and son to then-current King George V (Michael Gambon). Though his older brother Edward (Guy Pearce) is set to inherit the throne, his father seems intent on getting him to give speeches for the royalty. This is in no small part because Edward seems more interested in the pleasures of drinking, socializing, and Wallice Simpson, than being a Prince and a King. As the film opens, Albert is set to give a speech at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley. He is unable to properly do so, as he suffers from a pretty debilitating stutter. He’s practically given up trying to cure it when he decides to see Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush in one of his very best performances), a speech therapist who normally works with children.

Albert of course eventually succeeds to the throne (though if you don’t know the history behind it, it is fascinating to watch, so I will do no spoiling here) to become King George VI. This happens on the eve of World War II as Germany threatens to, and then goes through with, its invasion of Poland. Launching the country into war, King George VI must be the rock upon which the country rests. But it is difficult to place ones hopes and confidence in a man who cannot evoke confidence within himself. The title of the film is a play on words and has a double meaning. It is firstly his speech as in his speaking and his stutter; it is secondly the speech he must give launching England into war with Germany. Explaining all of this is not a spoiler, because the facts mean close to nothing with regard to the depth of the film.

The brilliance of this film comes through its analysis of its characters and of the relationship between King George VI and Lionel Logue. Logue is an unconventional speech therapist. Whereas others treated the King at a distance, or made him stuff marbles in his mouth (a humiliation for anyone, let alone a royal figure), Logue forces the King to actually think about his own life, and who he is. He forces him to consider that his problem is not simply a physical one; it’s a psychological one as well. “No one is born with a stutter,” Logue says matter-of-factly. Furthermore, he places the King and himself on an equal footing. He calls him “Bertie”, a name only his closest family calls him. What makes The King’s Speech so special in this sense is that it doesn’t simply tell us “this is difficult for a member of the English Monarch to do”, but shows us why it’s so difficult. Take the scene in which Albert’s father, King George V, dies. The whole family stands around his bed, stone-faced and cold, not so much holding in their emotions as suppressing and ignoring them. Edward, however, cannot do what his mother and brother are doing, and breaks down crying, embracing his mother, the Queen. She not only ignores his embrace, but has a mild look of disgust on her face. It is a touching, heartbreaking scene, and underscores the difficulty that Albert faces in not only succeeding his father, but in embracing himself as his own person.

The film, which could have easily manufactured its emotional heft, does so with an adept control. Tom Hooper exhibits a masterful directorial hand here. The same can be said all around, however. The art direction is impeccable, the score wonderful, and the script one of the best to come around in a long time. It amazes me that the film is an original screenplay, and not based on a book. While watching the film, I kept wondering if it was based on a memoir by Lionel Logue, or some biography of King George VI, but was surprised to find that the screenplay is entirely David Seidler’s creation. He deserves an Oscar for it. Along with both Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, who both give great, Oscar-worthy performances is Helena Bonham Carter, playing Albert’s wife Elizabeth and the future Queen of England. Although she has little screen time in comparison, her character is essential to the development of Firth’s. Coming from a family of such dysfunction, she is perhaps the only functional thing Albert can rely on. Bonham Carter has never been better.

I find myself more and more attracted to films that deal in human interaction. It is not so much that I dislike films that are more concerned with things such as action, but that I find the way that we as humans form relationships with each other to be utterly fascinating. Along with The Social Network, another film that can be said to be concerned with this, The King’s Speech is one of the best films of 2010. Although the two films are strikingly different in their tones, their periods and their characters, they are both about the way that we, as humans, navigate the world around us. I watched as each scene unfolded and each conversation played out with a marked interest and surprising investment. Many films have been concerned with royalty, and of the English Monarchy in particular. But not many such films carry as much humanity as The King’s Speech.


2 Responses to Review – The King’s Speech (2010)

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