12 January 2011

Movie Review: The King's Speech


The King's Speech
2010, 118mins, 12
Director: Tom Hooper
Writer: David Seidler
Cast includes: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, Michael Gambon
UK Release Date: 7th January 2011

“The King’s Speech” is a startlingly effective crowd-pleaser, an uplifting production that soars on the back of strong direction and sensational performances. The film focuses on the life of King George VI (Colin Firth), most notably the monarch’s struggle with his confidence shredding speech impediment. Helmed gracefully by the talented Tom Hooper, the movie operates firstly as a superlative dose of multiplex entertainment, secondly as an insightful biopic and damning examination of the emotional damage the British Royals have bestowed upon their quirky clan.

The future King George VI (also known as Bertie) is struggling with his life in the public eye, finding his nasty speech impediment a constant burden. Having seen and fared poorly with multiple specialists, the Prince turns to Lionel (Geoffrey Rush) an odd verbal therapist, at the behest of his loving yet insistent spouse (Helena Bonham Carter). Bertie and Lionel form a reluctant friendship, and notable results are seen in the patient’s speaking capabilities. However when Bertie’s brother David (Guy Pearce) abdicates the throne, Bertie has to fill the gap, much to his distress and dislike. As a result the pressure to solve Bertie’s medical dilemma increases, Lionel needing the King to really open up about his past before the source of the handicap can be detected. As the threat of War dawns (the production is set around the period 1930-1940) Bertie begins to crumble, after all how are the nation supposed to cope in a time of crisis when their monarch can barely string a sentence together?

“The King’s Speech” is primarily a story of friendship between two men, albeit a much different variation than the Apatow style that seems to have consumed modern Hollywood. Rush and Firth are marvellous in the film, gifting the onscreen relationship between Lionel and Bertie a genuine gravitas. The bond shared between the characters is forged in a very naturalistic fashion, progressing satisfactorily and believably throughout the course of the story. Hooper guides proceedings with a deft and appreciatively soft touch, refusing to turn “The King’s Speech” into a dreary history lesson, instead setting his sights on concocting a fulfilling tale of two men helping to resolve each other’s demons. It’s truly delightful stuff.

Firth’s performance is a master class, slipping effortlessly into the skin of the late king. Firth paints a rather saddening picture of the monarch, showing us a man distressed by his harsh upbringing and depressed by thoughts of his future duties. It’s a complex turn filled with moments of tragedy and laughter, also operating as a rather affecting portrait of how emotionally repressed and mistreated certain members of the British monarchy were. Of course matching the exquisite leading performance is a divine Geoffrey Rush, bring his own nuanced comedic skills and sense of inner turmoil (his character is a failed actor) to the project. Together they make for a spellbinding screen couple, their dialogue flows and the deep connection the characters are meant to harbour is demonstrated perfectly through the impeccable acting on show.. The supporting crew also impress. Bonham Carter is likable yet exudes an appropriately stiff upper lip as Bertie’s wife, whilst Guy Pearce offers a slimy but almost sympathetic (in a rather twisted way) turn as Prince David. It’s hard to think of many films in possession of the same levels of thespian nirvana as “The King’s Speech”.

The historical period featured is expertly constructed by the filmmakers, who provide the movie with a welcome sense of cinematic scope. At times the picture offers a rather sombre visual aesthetic (the skyline always seems murky), but the high quality of cinematography and production design can’t be argued. Hooper also deserves kudos for his solid use of music, especially during the adrenaline pumping finale. The fact the climax of this film (which essentially boils down to Colin Firth talking into a microphone) is more exciting than most recent blockbusters is a true tribute to the engaging nature of this brilliant picture.

In many ways “The King’s Speech” is a rather conventional underdog tale, filled with many of the same glories and stumbling blocks that populate umpteenth other examples of this genre. However the characterization, acting and direction here is remarkably good, resulting in a picture of exhilarating dramatic credibility. It’s positively regal cinema.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011


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