Review: The King’s Speech

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…fuckity, shit, shit, fuck and willy. Willy, shit and fuck and… tits

Bafta nominated and likely to be Oscar nominated in the near future, since opening at the Toronto Film Festival in September The King’s Speech has garnered several nominations/awards and a healthy critical and audience reception. It’s an earnest and deceptively simple film full of delightful characters and a central pairing that really makes the film sing. The film has received effusive praise; this review will probably function along the same lines.

As much as I had misgivings about The King’s Speech, they’re nothing to do with the film, its construction or the entertainment value it offers. It may sound prosaic but the King’s Speech, to me at least, still presented the image of Britain and perhaps in further analysis British film that I had hoped we were starting to leave behind. It’s a film that (quite rightly) we’ve been known for, for quite some time.

The mixing of upper and lower class; the poise and eloquence of the dialogue: the emphasis on drama: actors imbuing the persona of the character and quite frankly how relatively straightforward it all appears. There’s no fuss, no need to insert some pointless CGI or requirement to ‘appeal to the masses’. It’s all about the dramatis personae as it were, never taking its eyes off of what’s important and what’s important here is the interaction between the characters.

What the King’s Speech is all about is a King George VI (Colin Firth), who ascended the throne when his brother Edward (Guy Pearce) abdicated but was unsure of whether he fully met the mantle of being King because of the restrictive and terrifying effect his speech impediment had on him. He stutters, unfortunately so for someone who’s been cast on the public eye and is required to perform in a way befitting of his heritage (a theme that the film comes back to later on).

The film opens in 1925 at the Empire Exhibition in London, Wembley and it sets up many of the motifs and recurring themes later on. The pressure to deliver as ‘Bertie’ is not just addressing those in Wembley; with the power of radio he’s addressing the public around the British Isles, he’s addressing all the colonies and territories that the British Empire were in control of and they’re about to hang on to his every word. What a platform to succeed (or fail) on…

…and he can’t string together more than two words.

The pressure to fold in to what the public expect of him, what his family and his heritage expect of him and the pressure he puts on himself to perform these duties is too much. He never seems relaxed, ill at ease with the pedestal he’s been uncomfortably hoisted upon. His inability to perform in public makes him think he’s unworthy of adequately representing himself or the country and it gives life to an impressive performance by Colin Firth.

At first there’s not much to it, I wondered why he was frontrunner for the Oscars but in the end he just conveys so effortlessly the contradictions/internal demons within the character that you forget that Firth’s playing the role and just accept him as this bumbling man who (like many of us) would crumble under the pressure of being a would-be King.

He encapsulates the character wonderfully, at times he’s sensitive, at other times he’s insensitive, vehement at himself and others; he’s vulnerable but tries his hardest not to let anyone see that chink in his armour. It’s a great performance and one that I fully expect to see rewarded in kind.

He’s not the only one who delivers. Geoffrey Rush (Lionel Logue) and Helena Bonham Carter (soon to be Queen Elizabeth) both give effortless performances and it’s especially with Logue that film develops a dynamic between Firth and Rush that’s great to watch.

It’s in these moments that the film turns into what often feels like an episode of In Treatment (HBO series with Gabriel Bryne), each character sets up boundaries that the other has to negotiate and it’s the breaking down of these boundaries and the eventual revealing of who these characters are that provides the solid foundation for their friendship.

Bertie’s (as the King is more affectionately known as) problems stem from childhood, a revealing glance into his character tells of the pressure, perhaps even bullying methods attempted to stop him from stammering only to further exacerbate the problem.

Logue has his own problems which play in the dynamic of upper and lower class society in that he is an Australian and subject of some discrimination for not having the kind of credentials or (as I suspect) talent because he was not brought up in Britain.  Rush very much plays off Firth but should also get credit for making Logue feel like a fully fleshed character rather than caricature.

What allows for these performances to prosper is the simple direction that Tom Hooper brings the film. There’s nothing too distracting about the cinematography which allows for solid storytelling and performances. When the cinematography is noticeable it services the story rather than draws away from it.

There are several times where the camera follows a character from behind (or in front of) in a similar way that Aronofsky employed for The Wrestler. The camera pulls tight behind Firth emphasising his smaller world before opening up and showing just how small and insignificant he must feel. Places like the House of Commons and Wembley Exhibition feel enormous and the sense of being in a goldfish bowl is both made aware and acute.

This all leads up to a stirring speech to unite Britain on the eve of WWII which is played to Beethoven’s Symphony that is grand, eloquent and once again deceptively simple in its construction.  Seeing him overcome his impediment is the kind of obvious, heart warming fare that films do so often but here its excellently done, drawing the audience in before giving the send-off you half expected but are nonetheless pleased to see happen.

So while I end this by saying The King’s Speech is a solid, unspectacular film, it is with the highest regard for its construction and the performances found within. I cannot reiterate more just how simple it is but that belies its charm, its humour and its sense for drama done well that we don’t get enough of it seems. A thoroughly enjoyable experience, The King’s Speech performs its duties to the letter.

8/10

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Posted on 24/01/2011, in Best of, Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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