Friday, February 18, 2011

The King's Speech


The King's Speech

Writer: David Seidler
Director: Tom Hooper

Cast: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, Michael Gambon 

Thousands of words have been written about 'The King's Speech'.   Mostly raves, but also many decrying the fact that historical liberties have been taken.   But one thing everyone, without exception is agreed upon, is that Colin Firth's performance as the stammering Duke of York and then King George V1 is a tour de force.

Every time we watch a film, we are required to suspend belief.   Do we really believe that these are not actors, but real people?  Well, yes we do.   And in this superbly mounted English period piece, I for one  joyfully allowed myself to believe everything and to enjoy every moment of the meticulous craft and sublime skill demonstrated by the actors and the film's makers.

I would be most interested to know your opinion.    Do write to me at les@leslieback.co.za or leave a comment on the blog.  I look forward to hearing from you.   


The film starts very powerfully.   We witness the agonizing spectacle of the Duke of York standing frozen before a microphone about to address the vast crowds at the Empire exhibition at Wembley on the 31st October 1925 and via live radio to the nation.  His stammer prevents him from getting a word out, the horror and hideous embarrassment of his predicament deeply etched on his face   The crowds, eyes downcast, are equally embarrassed.  But his father, King George V,  who had determined that it was necessary that Bertie (as he is known to his family) should make more public appearances, reacts with cold and unsympathetic wrath.  The King declares that while it used to be enough for royalty to look good on a horse,  they were now, in the new media age, expected to master the radio microphone.   The part of King George V is brilliantly played by Michael Gambon.  It is a cameo role, but carries so much weight that one remains aware of him throughout the film.

It would appear that the Duke of York had been subjected to the attentions of  many speech therapists and had roundly and soundly denounced them all.  His wife, the Duchess of York, seeks out Lionel Logue, a rather extraordinary Australian speech therapist who occupies shabby premises in Harley Street.  Helena Bonham Carter plays the Duchess of York, later Queen Elizabeth, with great sensitivity and with an uncanny ability, portrays her as we  might remember the lovely Queen Mother.  Aristocratic, charming but with a core of steel beneath the marshmallow exterior.   Geoffrey Rush portrays the eccentric Australian as brash and bullish, but also as an empathetic and emotional teacher.  It is a brilliant portrayal.   He brushes aside royal convention and protocol, insisting on equal footing between teacher and pupil.  The lessons cannot be held in any palace, but in his rooms and on his terms.  The Duchess of York plays a very active role in the lessons, even at times having to sit on the floor with the Duke.

When the Queen Mother was approached by the writer,David Seidler, for permission to write about her husband's  travails, she requested that it be deferred till after her death as the memory of the events was too painful.  And so David Seidler waited and what was to be a stage play became a screen play.   Seidler vividly describes the unconventional methods employed by Logue.   He details the sometimes angry exchanges between teacher and pupil and the initial uneasiness of the relationship.   Eventually Bertie comes to rely on this man who becomes his friend and his confidante.  It becomes clear that the origin and cause of the stammer is the unhappy relationship with his father.   George V famously said that he had been afraid of his father and it was absolutely right that his sons should be afraid of him!

All the while, in the background, David, Prince of Wales, portrayed by Guy Pearce, as a shallow playboy, is carrying on a relationship with a twice divorced American woman,Wallis Simpson.  Described by Logue as Queen Wallis of Baltimore, she holds the prince firmly and irrevocably in her thrall.  The Prince cruelly teases Bertie, causing him to sink further and further into his stammering state.  The ailing King George V dies, propelling David into his role as Edward V111.  David actually finds this very selfish of his father, as he was hoping the role would be long deferred.

When King Edward abdicates to marry Wallis Simpson, Bertie ascends the throne as King George V1.  He insists that Logue be seated in the king's box for the coronation in Westminster Abbey.  The Archbishop of Canterbury is appalled, but Bertie remains adamant.   Logue coaches the king through the rituals of the coronation and succeeds in incurring his pupil's wrath by casually sitting in St Edward's Chair,  the seat of kings and queens through the centuries.  The Stone of Scone, a mere trifle.

When World War 2 breaks out, the King is required to make a speech to the nation.  Presented with his speech, he takes one look at it and declares 'get Logue'.  A special studio is constructed within the palace to allow for total intimacy between the King and Lionel Logue.   Lionel says 'speak to me' and that is exactly what King George V1 does.  He manages the speech triumphantly and then goes out onto the Balcony with his family to receive an ovation from his people.

There is a wonderful scene that encapsulates the energy and relationship between these two men when Colin Firth pauses for a moment before going out onto the balcony and turns to his friend.  There is a shared moment.  Is the glint in Logue's eye a tear or a sparkle of pride?    Two huge faces filled the screen and we all wept.

In the final titles, there is a lovely note to say that Lionel Logue was present at all the speeches the King made throughout the war and that they remained lifelong friends.

Colin Firth's performance is impeccable and elegant     He displays all the niceness of the King, the depth of his love for his wife and daughters, his very reluctant kingship and his honest devotion to his duty as monarch.  Apart from the stammer, he also adopts the very tenor of  King George V1's voice.  I loved the charming English lisp where the R sound comes out as a W.   And oh my, doesn't he look terrific with all his medals and military finery!

Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter deserve giant applause as supporting actors who each make their roles almost as important as the lead.  The writer and the director succeed brilliantly in strongly emphasising the inter-dependence of the King, the Queen and Lionel Logue.

While all the minor players are excellently crafted, I would venture to suggest that Winston Churchill, played by Timothy Spall, sounds perfect, but looks like a jowly and mournful spaniel instead of a bulldog.  But who cares?   Everything about 'The Kings Speech' is evidence of how brilliantly the Brits portray their monarchs and how beautifully they mount period dramas.  In this, they are without peer.

2 comments:

Michael Olivier said...

Whether you write about a restaurant or a movie, it makes compelling reading. I've said it before, you have a lovely way with words. If I had never heard of the movie, you would make me want to see it. You do the same with restaurants, you make me want to go and eat there. Luv luv Michael

Leslie Back said...

Thank you for your lovely comment. I am so pleased that you enjoyed the review.