Saturday, 22 January 2011

The King's Speech

On the face of it, a film about a guy with a stammer and his struggle to overcome said speech defect so that he can speak in public, doesn't sound like it would particularly get bums on seats. But make the guy Prince Albert of York (soon to be King George VI), get Colin Firth to play him, and fill the role of the elocution teacher with the excellent Geoffrey Rush; then play the film against the backdrop of George V's death, the abdication of Edward VIII and imminent war with Germany in 1939 and the result is a great film full of many dramatic and funny moments.

Essentially; Prince Albert has suffered from a stammer from a young age, but now that he is expected to make public appearances and speeches, his difficulty in speaking is quite a hindrance. Having seen many speech therapists his wife Elizabeth (played by Helena Bonham Carter, who is also excellent) finds a therapist with some unorthodox methods. This therapist Lionel Logue (Rush), finds it hard to get to know "Bertie", but following the death of his father George V, he starts to open up to Lionel.

With the Death of George V, Bertie's brother Edward (Guy Pearce) becomes King, but his desire to marry a twice-divorced woman (not favourable in the eyes of The Establishment) results in his abdication of the throne. Bertie is therefore crowned King, not as Albert (considered to Germanic to be appropriate in 1936) but as George VI.

The new King struggles to find confidence to speak at his coronation, but doesn't have to say very much anyway. His big moment comes when he is to be broadcast live to the country and all the colonies following the outbreak of World War 2. This is the climax of the film, and of course he gets through the speech without stammering, but also not without dramatic pauses as he struggles for control.

I really did enjoy this film. The cast is superb. Colin Firth does deserve his Golden Globe, but I think Geoffrey Rush is at least as good as Firth. Helena Bonham Carter is also great (quite a departure for her, not being in a Tim Burton film!). She really seems to wear the trousers in the first part of the film where Bertie comes across as being a bit self pitying. Derek Jacobi puts in a solid performance as Archbishop Cosmo Lang, but is only ever a minor character. And I must not forget Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill, with surely an award-winning scowl if ever there was one!

I feel the cinematography is worth a comment. The overall palette of the film was very mute, even in some of the very opulent rooms inevitable in a film about Royals. I'm not sure if this was to reflect Bertie's overall mood as he is constantly struggling against his speech impediment; or rather to reflect the mood of the time leading up to war with Hitler. Or maybe neither and I haven't a clue what I'm talking about.

There were also a noticeable number of scenes (particularly if characters were sitting down) which were framed so that their heads mostly occupied the lower middle and left part of the screen. This left a lot of wall in the background which was made far more obvious. And I really can't think of a reason why some scenes would be shot like this. Maybe this is just me being weird, or perhaps I need my eyes corrected! But did anyone else notice this? Danny Cohen does have a BAFTA nomination for this work, so maybe no-one else did notice it!

Despite my potential weirdness I thought the film was excellent. Fantastic that us Brits can make a film about something so quintessentially British, and do it bloody well! What ho!