Film Review with Robert Mann – The King’s Speech

The King’s Speech ****½

Kicking off both 2011 and the awards season in fine style The King’s Speech has already emerged as one of the frontrunner’s in this year’s awards race. Having already been nominated for eight awards and walked away with five –

Best Actor (for Colin Firth), Best British Independent Film, Best Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (for Geoffrey Rush, who is also an executive producer on this film) and Best Supporting Actress (for Helena Bonham Carter) – from last year’s British Independent Film Awards and been nominated for numerous others, the film is also leading the long list for this year’s BAFTA film awards where it has fifteen nominations and looks set to dominate alongside the likes of upcoming film Black Swan. The awards success of The King’s Speech will come as little surprise to many given some of the people involved in the film. Colin Firth, while not always having been granted the best roles to worth with, received a Best Actor nomination at 2009’s Academy Awards for his performance in A Single Man and won the Best Actor gong at that year’s BAFTAs for the same role and already looks set to repeat that feat this year. The prestigious cast doesn’t end with Firth either, his co-stars including, in addition to Rush and Bonham Carter, the likes of Derek Jacobi, Michael Gambon, Guy Pearce and Timothy Spall (playing Winston Churchill for the second time after voicing him in last year’s Jackboots in Whitehall). Director Tom Hooper, meanwhile, may not have the most illustrious resume, his work mostly being television projects aside from 2004 South African drama Red Dust, but his last directorial effort, The Damned United received much critical acclaim upon its UK cinema release. For screenwriter David Seidler, meanwhile, this is his first cinema project, having only worked in television previously, but the one win and three nominations he has already received for his work on this film shows he clearly has what it takes to deliver something memorable. So, is The King’s Speech a memorable one that lives up to the stellar word of mouth that has preceded its release or does it prove to be something of a disappointment? Who are we kidding; you already know that the former is true.

In 1925 King George V (Michael Gambon) asks his second son, Albert the Duke of York (Colin Firth), to do a speech on his behalf at Wembley Stadium. The speech does not go well as Albert is debilitated by a speech impediment – a stammer. Unable to speak publicly, Albert, spurred on by his wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), visits numerous speech therapists to no avail, no one seeming to be able to help rid him of his impediment. No one that is until Elizabeth comes across Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). A failed actor with no qualifications to his name but a reputation for helping those with speech difficulties when everyone else fails, Logue is known for utilising very unorthodox techniques and at first Albert is unwilling to go along with his treatments. Life forces Albert to change his mind, however, as his older brother David (Guy Pearce), the next in line to the throne, has become smitten with a married American woman, Wallis Simpson (Eve Best) and his actions are threatening his becoming the next monarch, a position that Albert doesn’t want but is all too aware that may be thrust upon him should David abdicate – an eventuality that does indeed come to be, forcing Albert to take the throne as King George VI. What starts out as an uneasy partnership between Albert and Lionel soon grows into a friendship as not only do the unorthodox techniques used in their therapies yield effective results but they also develop a mutual respect for one another than transcends their differing statures in life. When war with Germany beckons, Albert finds himself facing the most difficult speech of his life, one that could bring hope to all those over whom he reigns. And with the help of his friend Lionel he just might be able to pull it off.

That The King’s Speech would be a very historically accurate film with the look, feel and sound of period Britain being captured in perfect authentic detail courtesy of perfectly chosen locations, grand and lavish set, costume and prop design, period authentic music and ambient sound and spot on period accents was always a given. That a film based around a character trying to overcome a speech impediment and climaxing in a speech would prove so interesting and entertaining, however, is something you may not have expected. There is a distinct vein of sadness and tragedy that runs through the film from start to finish, the opening scene portraying Albert attempting to make a speech at Wembley Stadium showing us how his speech impediment is impacting his life and causing him great sadness, and we really do feel for the character constantly, the tragedy of his life being handled with an incredible amount of sensitivity and never made light of, not even when the film is embracing its more humorous side. While by no means a comedy in the literal sense of the word this is a film that manages to be as funny as it is tragic. Much of this comes from the dialogue with the words the characters speak often being quite hilarious, although never in a way that detracts from the authenticity or comes across as insensitive. This is particularly true of the exchanges between Albert and Lionel which manage to be both funny and extremely sincere. Also proving humorous are depictions are the unorthodox techniques that Lionel utilises and scenes where the stammering Albert attempts to say tongue twisters or where he swears out loud – a scene involving the f word won the film a fair amount of controversy when it got the film a 15 rating, which was reduced to 12A on appeal and, rather than coming across as crude, it seems wholly honest, depicting Albert’s frustrations perfectly and in a sensitively humorous way. A particularly impressive achievement is the manner in which tragedy and humour so seamlessly blend together as well evidenced in a scene where Albert reads a bedtime story to his daughters, a scene which is fraught with both a sense of sadness and a mild sense of humour, being very tender in its presentation and making the two potentially opposing elements work together superbly. This is a film that is fully aware of its lighter more humorous side and not afraid to embrace it but it also does not forget what really matters – its heart and this is something that the film has in plentiful supply. This can largely be attributed to writer David Seidler, whose screenplay is simply excellent, not only delivering riveting dialogue – essential for a film based entirely around speech – but providing an engaging plot that only falters slightly on occasion out of a necessity to follow the chronology to real life events – something that means that events sometimes seem to jump ahead, the big picture never being explored – rather than because of any issues with Seidler’s writing. The acting is also unanimously excellent. Colin Firth truly deserves every single accolade he receives for his performance here, with him nailing his character’s stammer perfectly and portraying pure emotion on the screen, making us truly believe in and care for Albert. Superb even in the scenes where his character isn’t stammering, his performance here is a very tragic and very likable one and it is hard to see anyone not being won over by it. Additionally, there is also a believable chemistry between him and Helena Bonham Carter who is superb in her own right. Geoffrey Rush delivers a brilliant performance as well, delivering an appropriately “peculiar” performance and being as believable as he is amusing even if he does occasionally seem reduced to the level of comic relief when compared with Firth. Elsewhere in the cast, Michael Gambon is bold and forceful as King George V, Guy Pearce proves well cast as David, Timothy Spall makes for an excellent Winston Churchill and Derek Jacobi portrays Archbishop Cosmo Lang. Overall, The King’s Speech is an extremely inspirational tale and a film that is wonderfully realised. As someone who isn’t the biggest fan of historical films I wasn’t wholly engrossed in the experience for the duration but still admit that this film is quite an achievement and a must see for the start of 2011. Rarely has history been as entertaining as it is here and the virtually seamless blending of tragedy, humour and tenderness makes for a film that feels less like a boring history lesson and more like reliving history for yourself with a perspective that could not be achieved through any medium other than film.



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Review by Robert Mann BA (Hons)

© BRWC 2010.


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Alton loves film. He is founder and Editor In Chief of BRWC.  Some of the films he loves are Rear Window, Superman 2, The Man With The Two Brains, Clockwise, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Trading Places, Stir Crazy and Punch-Drunk Love.

2 COMMENTS
  • Bradley 11th January 2011

    The King’s Speech is a marvelous film. All of the acting is superb. One of the best parts was showing the reactions of the people listening to the king speak. One of the problems with stuttering is the fear of the reaction of others and trying not to stutter because of that. The Stuttering Foundation publishes a great brochure of tips for talking with someone who stutters that everyone should know about in case they encounter a “king” who stutters:)

  • Anonymous 11th January 2011

    awesome flick

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