Crowning moment – The King’s Speech review

The King’s Speech – Starring Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter. Directed by Tom Hooper. Rated M. By Simon Miraudo.

You too can make an Academy Award contender! All you need are these ten ingredients: 1) An inspirational true story, 2) a character with a pronounced disability, 3) Colin Firth in a leading role, 4) Geoffrey Rush in a supporting role, 5) canted camera angles, 6) a score by Alexandre Desplat, 7) Helena Bonham Carter (provided it’s a period piece), 8) a five-minute appearance from Guy Pearce and, most importantly, 9) the support of producers Bob and 10) Harvey Weinstein. Tom Hooper’s The King Speech – which serendipitously features all ten of these elements – is practically the definition of Oscar bait. It’s a veritable trifle of sumptuous delights for members of the Academy to nosh on. The King’s Speech is Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory to the voters’ Augustus Gloop.

But fear not. The King Speech artfully avoids cliché, schmaltz and smugness (the hallmark of too many Oscar nominated films) to be a rather wonderful experience. It’s a lovely, heartfelt film performed impeccably by a charming cast. Firth stars as the stammering Duke of York (Bertie to his friends), who employs Aussie speech therapist Lionel Logue (Rush) to help him overcome his stutter as he prepares to take the throne and become King George VI. Do not be put off by the seemingly stuffy subject matter. It’s true that the list of ingredients for a “sexy” movie (Angelina Jolie, David Caruso, a screenplay by Joe Eszterhas) rarely correspond with those of a “good” movie, but The King’s Speech is still wildly entertaining, even if it is unfortunately lacking in swimming pool-based sex scenes. (That was a weird segue; let’s see if we can’t get back on track.)

History buffs will no doubt already be well versed in the tale of the Duke of York’s ascension in the 1930s. Proud Bertie has grown up in the intimidating shadow of his father King George V (an imposing Michael Gambon) and his older brother David (Guy Pearce). As a result, he’s developed something of a speech impediment. It’s a nasty inconvenience, and emblematic of his inability to consider himself a man with potential. Loving wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) seeks out amateur Australian actor Logue (who received his training in the “enthusiastic” theatre town of Perth) to help her stubborn hubby overcome his obstacle. So begins an unlikely friendship that would inadvertently shape modern history.

Tom Hooper – who helmed a similarly affecting movie about modern kings and unlikely friendships, The Damned United – brings a unique visual approach here. He and cinematographer Danny Cohen position their camera in a number of interesting ways. I’m not sure it really contributes to the meaning behind the film, but it separates it from more “classical” films of this ilk. And gosh, it is indeed pretty. Not to be outshone by tilt shots and astounding period detail are the film’s true stars, Firth and Rush, as the impetuous Bertie and the disarming Lionel respectively. Firth – following on from his unforgettable performance in the otherwise-forgettable A Single Man – fills his Duke of York with such pain and misguided guilt. We too feel the incredible weight of his calling, and his evolution into King George VI is gripping. Rush meanwhile, playing a failed actor with an affinity for articulation, masterfully avoids eating the scenery; he has fun with his character yet still imbues him with heart and soul.

It was revealed in the last decade that King George VI approved Hitler’s governmental “inspection” of unauthorized Jews emigrating out of Germany. This scandal is overlooked by Hooper and screenwriter David Seidler. I understand its exclusion from the film; The King’s Speech would hardly be a feel-good flick if we were asked to champion a man who first turned a blind eye to some of the atrocities being undertaken in Germany before plunging his nation into war. But perhaps if Bertie – already a rich character – had been portrayed warts and all, the audience would have a little bit more to chew on, a little more to process than that which we are given here. Instead of leaving the cinema with a smile – which we do – we could have left conflicted; we could have argued about the film on the drive home, or weeks later. If Hooper were truly interested in giving us a different type of period piece, perhaps he should have considered confronting the audience with some harsh truths, rather than oblique camera angles. Still, this is just the hypothetical difference between a very good film and a brilliant one. Just so there’s no confusion, let me speak plainly: The King’s Speech is a very good film.

4/5

Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

The King’s Speech arrives in Australian cinemas December 26, 2010.

4 Responses to “Crowning moment – The King’s Speech review”

  1. >Great review Simon… Just one thing… I think it is incorrect to say that King George VI (Or Bertie) “turned a blind eye” to Nazi atrocities, or even that he was the one who plunged his nation into war (considering that the King acts by convention on the advice of the Prime Minister). Until the true extent of the holocaust came to light at the end of the Second World War, it is hard to know what the King knew of the Nazi’s actions, or the effect that preventing Jewish emigration would have. The disgusting and unfortunate truth about European history is that the Jews had always been targets of violence and repression, and that the Nazi oppression, while probably appearing particularly vicious, would not have caused great concern to much of the Christian populations of Europe. I agree film-makers probably should not hide historical facts (especially for something as petty as Oscar votes), but I also disagree that ONE document published 8 years ago about the Kings instructions for someone else to write a letter in the 1930s constitutes enough evidence to say that King George VI “turned a blind eye” to Nazi atrocities. I do look forward to seeing this movie though! I think it's going to be great :) Sir Chingsworthy

  2. >Fair point Sir Chingsworthy (if that IS your real name).I think this article offers an articulate rebuttal to the leaked documents: http://www.opposingviews.com/i/king-s-speech-movie-s-oscar-chances-hurt-by-nazi-rumorsIt's impossible to know how much King George/anyone knew of the atrocities being committed by Hitler in 1939, but it is true that England was hoping to avoid war. As the aforementioned article says, "support for appeasement of Hitler was common among the British establishment during the 1930s".Maybe King George had no idea what was going on. Maybe he SHOULD have known. What constitutes "turning a blind eye"? Having the knowledge, and ignoring it, or perhaps being happy to not seek it?Regardless, the film does not offer even a glimpse of this complex moral shading; not with George, not with anyone. Not even his brother, a supposed Nazi sympathiser.Thanks for your comment!

  3. >It's a tricky thing. If you are trying to portray history as objectively as possible (if that's your aim), then what is best: to portray it in it's true historical context or to present it in false modern terms? The true historical context may be historically accurate but your audience will probably not understand the essense of what you are trying to present, being to foreign to the context; conversely, your message might be delivered accurately if you lie about the context. In the case of this film, these choices are whether to openly portray the king's presumably favourable attitudes towards Nazism or whether to hide this away in order to better focus on his personal development. The context here is that most of Europe's aristocracy (and many others besides) was favourable to Nazism, in an automatically arrogant and idealistic way. They did not generally mean anything bad by it, and the subsequent German atrocities were way beyond the pale for these aristocrats. All of this would be hard to convey in this sort of film without derailing the original story – but a good script writer could do it in an unobtrusive way. Remains of the Day show it well, but it's not exactly unobtrusive, or meant to be, since it's half of the main story ;)

  4. >The movie as about the relationship between Bertie and Lionel and what that achieved. The way National Socialsim was regarded by the British royal family has absolutely nothing to do with this story. This is a story, it is not, nor does it try to be, a history lesson. If you want that go and find a documentary.

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