Wednesday, 2 February 2011

The King's Speech

The King’s Speech is a veritable Pride and Prejudice of 1995 reunion. We have Mr Darcy as King George VI, Elizabeth Bennet as his speech therapist’s wife, and even Mr Collins makes a cameo as a theatre director.

Even the dialogue is akin to that of Jane Austen. The whole film is something that seems closer to her time than to ours, in everything from the settings to the culture and society.

As Hitler rises to power, pushing Europe closer to War, King George V is ailing, and his eldest son Edward is getting closer to twice-divorced American Wallis Simpson. Edward’s younger brother Albert (Colin Firth on top form) has tried every speech therapist in London to try and cure his stammer, to no avail.

His wife Elizabeth (a regal Helena Bonham Carter) is recommended to try Lionel Logue, an Australian speech therapist played with understated wry humour by Geoffrey Rush, and after initial reluctance, Albert attends and continues to attend his unorthodox sessions.

As their relationship develops into what Albert can call a friendship, Logue prods gently deeper into the underlying causes of “Bertie’s” impediment, constantly arriving at Edward. This only intensifies when the King dies, and Edward inherits the throne, despite still being infatuated with Wallis.

Albert’s impatience and temper grows shorter as his brother wavers between his duty and the woman he loves, coming to a head when Edward finally abdicates, passing on his title and responsibilities to his frightened younger brother, who becomes King George VI.

When War is announced, and the British public look to a King who can lead them through the hardships, George VI has to prove himself by delivering a nine-minute radio speech.

The King’s Speech does a fine job of showing the Royal Family as a family. Royal, yes, but still a family. From Albert telling his two daughters a story about penguins, to a family get-together where Queen Elizabeth and Wallis Simpson are on frosty terms. It shows the love between Albert and Elizabeth, and her resolve in helping him overcome his stammer.

There is even a good deal of humour. A scene during his therapy in which Albert vents his frustration at Edward by unleashing a series of expletives had even the elderly members of the audience laughing. A rare moment when the use of the F word was genuinely funny. Writers and comedians take note.

As George VI haltingly but resolutely delivers his speech, and the country comes to a standstill to gather around their radios in terraced houses, country mansions, pubs and army barracks to listen to him, it could not fail to bring a lump to the throat.

We are also treated to a parade of well-known actors portraying famous historical figures: Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill, Michael Gambon as King George V, Guy Pearce as Edward, Derek Jacobi as Archbishop Lang, and even Outnumbered’s Ramona Marquez as the young Princess Margaret.

Yet every time the new King was referred to as “Bertie”, I could not help but think of Bertie Wooster.

Despite this, The King’s Speech is sumptuous. The production, direction, locations, performances and soundtrack are all pitch perfect. It tells the story of a man thrown by birth and circumstance into a role that he did not want to play, and his determination and courage to adapt to it.