Sunday, December 19, 2010

Film Review: The King’s Speech

King's Speech Trailer

David Seidler’s screenplay of The King’s Speech follows the conventional wisdom of the unlikely, unwilling king-in-waiting and stutterer who finds his voice during the crisis of war. The key speech and climax is Bertie’s (King George VI) first radio broadcast following the war declaration in 1939.

It’s the classic clichĂ© of the reluctant hero saving the day. Apparently the king had conquered his public speaking disasters by the time he visited Australia in 1927 to open the new Parliament House in Canberra. But you wouldn’t want to ruin a good story…

His family’s story has been one of the best known, both then and now. The Battenberg-Windsors have continued their star/celebrity status. They are the ‘firm’, a family business that is part politics, part public relations, and increasingly a large measure of popular entertainment. Bertie remarks that the advent of radio has made them all actors.

The young Elizabeth of the movie has lived to see her sister and children divorced, her 'uncle' assassinated by the IRA, the death of her ex-daughter-in-law Diana with the royal controversy that followed, and her son and heir’s marriage to a divorcĂ©e . The constitutional crisis surrounding the abdication of Edward VIII seems small beer with hindsight. Marry a divorced woman. Never!

The clash of the State religion with the king’s desires is underscored by the political storm emerging in Europe. The new King George VI watches newsreel footage of an Adolf Hitler speech and answers a query as to what he is saying , “I don't know but... he seems to be saying it rather well. …”. One would have expected him to have studied German, especially with his connections and given name of Albert. In fact Churchill points out the unsuitability of a Germanic name for the monarch.

Politics aside, personal relationships are the core of this drama. The friendship between then Duke of York and his unorthodox Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue is masterfully handled by two real pros, Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush. They relish the irony of an antipodean colonial teaching his monarch how to speak the King’s English. Firth never quite captures the look of a scared rabbit in a spotlight that the real Bertie always seems to have in old photos and film clips.

Helena Bonham Carter gives a skilful and controlled performance as the future Queen Elizabeth.

The royal brothers are both constrained by the House rules. Guy Pearce makes a credible Edward VIII (not his familiar name but then he could hardly have been called King David). However, his royal accent falls a little flat at times. The behind the scenes exchanges do not present a flattering portrait of this failed ‘ruler’.

The supporting cast is outstanding. You’d expect nothing less from Derek Jacobi as the Archbishop of Canterbury. Of course he has an illustrious acting history with characters that stutter. Timothy Spall as Churchill captures the icon without descending into caricature. During the film Churchill shares with his monarch his own struggle to overcome a speech impediment.

Director Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech is a very effective weaving of the personal and the political. Expect some Oscars from this period piece.