Monday, 17 January 2011

The King's Speech

The Prince Albert, The Duke of York, is blighted by a crippling stammer and lives in the shadow of his father, King George V, and his brother, The Prince of Wales. When his wife Elizabeth finds a speech therapist in Lionel Logue, an Australian now living in London, it seems finally The Prince (or ‘Bertie’) is finally making progress in conquering his affliction. But when his father dies, his brother seems more concerned with an American divorcee than his kingly responsibilities and the threat of war looms once again, Bertie finds himself ascending to the throne. Can he fight his numerous problems and concerns and be the commanding voice his country needs him to be?

I warn you, this may not be a long review. Everything that has to be said about The King’s Speech has already been said. Numerous times. Repeatedly. Nonetheless, I shall give this a go. So what can be said of The King’s Speech? It is a rather British film about a rather British story, you’ll understand. But does that mean it’s good? As fun as it would be to go against the consensus, the consensus is right. It IS good.

Straight off, I’ll hit the nail on the head. Yes, Colin Firth is excellent, he will probably win Best Actor at the Oscars this year and it is fully deserved, he’s completely convincing and plays Bertie absolutely to a tee, straight down the line. Amongst all this high praise for Firth though, it seems Geoffrey Rush is the forgotten man of The King’s Speech. His turn as Lionel Logue is masterful, delivering a heady mix of humour, emotion and eccentricity, becoming not just Bertie’s therapist, but his confidant as well. The relationship the two of them build is strong, and the two actors have a great chemistry on screen, playing off of one another to deliver a couple of fantastic performances. It’s a shame only one of these performances will be remembered. Even Helena Bonham Carter deserves praise here too; she’s not in the same league as Firth and Rush, but she’s still very good. To be honest, it’s just nice seeing her in something other than a bloody Tim Burton film.

What this film constantly falls back on is its source material: The script. It’s really well written, and is well informed by a stringent following of the history. Now clearly, things had to change for the sake of the film; the timeline of events is shortened somewhat and certain attitudes towards certain German dictators are played down, but that was inevitable. It’s the great attention to detail and reconstruction of these events which make the film so engaging. You can certainly tell that this started life as a potential stage play, what with the large focus on dialogue and a de-emphasis on action and change of scenery. That probably works in its favour, as it allows Rush and Firth to explore their characters, it allows the story to be more subtly told and it allows for the pace to remain slow and methodical, which is absolutely appropriate for the subject matter.

This now means that more praise needs to be heaped upon Tom Hooper, the director. He’s definitely established a ‘look’; this film is visually akin to The Damned United, his previous film. In many ways, they’re both very similar as far as they both portray historical events with a commanding lead character, producing fine performances from the actors. Michael Sheen and Colin Firth both owe Hooper an awful lot. Stemming from his years of experience directing TV dramas like John Adams and Longford, his eye for placing focus in the right place at the right time becomes evident, as does his unique visual style of placing characters against an emphasis on the grand scale of the environment the characters find themselves in. It’s not conventional, but it works: Never before has a microphone become such an object of intimidation.

Overall, though it may be a conventional story of a man overcoming his fears and problems with the help of another man against a historical context, it transcends that and becomes something more, something strangely reminiscent of Rain Man. It’s serious drama with a hint of humour thrown in, charming and witty, almost touching; it's never a chore to watch, it's a joy. This all results in this becoming somewhat of a feel good film, due in no small part to how Firth commands the screen and attaches the audience to the plight of his character. But enough of Firth, I’ll let the Academy praise him on my behalf.

Rating: *****