The King’s Speech (2010) – Review

Originally posted January 4, 2011
***

Being the second youngest person in a packed movie theatre can be foreboding, especially when it is a 4pm showing in the downtown district of Victoria on one of the last days before school returns from the Christmas holidays.  The film I saw was The King’s Speech, a British historical drama starring Colin Firth as the Duke of York/King George VI and Geoffrey Rush as the King’s speech therapist Lionel Logue.  Not being an action flick and seeing the amount of grey hair in the audience was enough to make me a little apprehensive, but seeing as all my friends who had seen the film raved about its wonders and the knowledge that my mother was paying for my ticket made me stay seated.

The film was amazing.  One of the best – no, probably the best film I have seen in 2011…  Ok, it was the first film I saw this year, but it was better than all the ones I saw last year and will likely be one of the best of 2011.  The King’s Speech was so well done and well filmed that if it or its actors do not win some major hardware (are you listening Academy Awards?) I will be very disappointed.

The film was debuted at the Telluride Film Festival, Colorado, on September 6, 2010, released in North America (limited) on November 26, 2010, and will be released in the UK on January 7, 2011.  The film was directed by Tom Hooper, a British director well-known for his acclaimed miniseries Elizabeth I and John Adams.

The official poster for The King's Speech

The plot of the film surrounds Albert the Duke of York’s attempts to cure a severely debilitating stammer that had left the second son of King George V standing silent at the microphone at the closing ceremonies of the 1925 Empire Exhibition.  As the film progresses, we learn that the Duke has spent a life ridiculed by the people around him for his speech impediment and has grown up marginalized and without friends.  He is deathly afraid of becoming King, a situation that seems unlikely until the King Edward becomes involved with Wallis Simpson, and has not been able to find a cure after visiting what seems like all the doctors in England.

Finally, after many suspicious cures are proved ineffective and Albert resolves to never see another doctor, his wife (Helena Bonham Carter) seeks out the lowly Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue who proceeds not only to mask the stammer – he actually “cures” it in the first session, winning him a shilling which becomes a repeating joke – but become the King’s first friend.  Their relationship is tested and broken many times but culminates in the Albert’s realization that he is worthy of the throne and capable as King.  There are many memorable scenes involving the two, who seem naturally friends on-screen by the end of the film, including treating Albert by having him recite vowel sounds while rolling across the floor, Logue hiding from his wife when the King comes for a session at his house (he had not told her he was treating the King), and Logue sitting on the coronation throne (King Edward’s Chair) to incite an angry response.  The two’s friendship becomes so strong, Logue is not only with the family at King George VI’s coronation, he also coaches the King through every wartime speech he gave, the first of which is the final scene in the movie and the culmination of Albert’s speech therapy.

Hear the original 1939 speech by King George VI here.

The shooting of The King’s Speech is done in an obvious way that at first seems confusing.  In the first scenes involving Rush and Firth’s speech therapy I at first thought the camera was aimed too low because the actors’ eyes kept disappearing off the top of the screen.  At second look I realized the filming was (obviously) focussing on the mouths as those are the key features of speech.  The filming locations are also superb as the production had access to many of the original historical venues.  Handheld cameras and swirling techniques were used to add movement and drama in the intense scenes.

The most important part of the film is the King’s stammer.  Firth’s acting of this role is unnatural for an actor, someone who makes a living through flawless enunciation.  His portrayal of the stammer is flawless, and painful.  The fear that Albert faced in becoming King is perfectly shown by Firth in his physical acting, often upright and typically British in public, yet collapsing and self-destructive in his therapy and with his brother David (King Edward VIII – Guy Pearce).  Firth’s acting skill is not only demonstrated by his stammer (something which gave him extreme jaw pain after acting) but also by his physical acting, capabilities which define him as one of the best current British actors.

One of the tricks Logue used to cure the King’s stammer was to get him to swear profusely.  The swearing is done as tactfully as possible, in the typical comedic British way, but the 17 ‘F-Words’ were enough to merit an R rating in the US (the film received a much more appropriate PG rating in Canada).

The comedy in the film is fast and witty, making the audience laugh so hard they would occasionally miss the next joke or one-liner.  The comedy centres mainly around the King and Logue as Rush’s character often finds himself in situations that are not commonplace when in the company of Royalty, but Logue’s devotion to his children and to his work prove to be successful in his unorthodox treatment of the King.  The audience’s reaction at the end of the film was fitting: immediate and unanimous applause, a reaction not provoked by many modern films.

An interesting fact of the film is it features the reunion of Firth and Jennifer Ehle who plays Logue’s wife.  Ehle is most well-known for her role as Elizabeth Bennet in the 1995 Pride and Prejudice mini-series, a role opposite Firth’s Mr. Darcy.  The two only have one scene together, and very few lines to each other, but it was an interesting side-note to the film.  Ehle’s role required a flawless Australian accent, one which she masters, and her minor role is still very important to the flow of the scenes and to provide insight into Logue’s character.  She also has a great comedic line upon first meeting King George VI – in her own house no less – and is a perfect contrast to Carter’s aristocratic public demeanour.

The film is a must see if you like period dramas or not.  The comedy and superb acting is complemented by an amazing script and the draw of a true story.  The cast features amazing veteran actors, all of whom are experienced in the genre and in similar stage performances.  The filming is excellent and the royal architecture is a reason enough to watch the film.  If you don’t take my word for it, then realize that it was the People’s Choice Award winner at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival, it has already won numerous other critics’ awards (7 Golden Globe nominations, another 6 wins and 18 nominations), and was the highest grossing film per theatre in 2010 (thanks in part to it being a limited release).

The King’s Speech: Showing now in selected theatres in North America, in the UK starting January 7, 2011.
Official Site.
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