[Movies] Review: The King’s Speech

Colin Firth and Helena Bonham-Carter in The King's Speech

Colin Firth and Helena Bonham-Carter in The King's Speech

I just wanted to share a few thoughts on the film that’s currently second favourite with William Hill to take the Best Picture crown at the Oscards (behind the Social Network).

The film centres on the Bertie, Duke of York (Colin Firth), and his wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham-Carter). Those of you with a passing knowledge of British history will realise that those two end up as King George VI and the late Queen Mother, but as the movie begins thoughts of ascending to the throne aren’t foremost in Bertie’s mind. He’s second in line behind his older, suaver, playboy brother David – later to become Edward VII (Guy Pearce). Not that that sits well with the pair’s father, George V. He knows David will bring shame to the family, and the country – and warns Bertie that he’ll have to take up the reigns of leadership one day. Sadly, that’s about the extent of the encouragement the ailing king offers his son; instead, he spends more time unpleasantly berating him for his stammer.

To be fair it is a reasonably excruciating impedement. The movie opens with Bertie about to address a packed Wembley – and, via radio, a rapt British Empire – for the first time. The experience is less than pleasant, for both Duke and audience, and encourages his loving, but practical, wife to seek professional help.

After an unpleasant experience with a tobacco-promoting doctor and his marbles – the Duke eventually ends up in the care of an eccentric Australian ex-pat speech therapist and amateur psychologist named Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). His methods are unconventional in the best traditions of quirky movie doctors, and his insistence on calling the future King “Bertie” ruffle a few feathers. But guess what? Yes, the two become firm friends, and through that friendship the lives of both are improved.

No it’s not particularly surprising. Indeed anyone with an IQ above 5 can figure out the film’s ending about 5 minutes after the movie starts. This is not some avant garde arthouse piece. It’s traditional cinema, with a traditional story about people who are particular fond of their traditions. But that doesn’t make it any less excellent. That the strings being used to manipulate the audience’s emotions are so obvious doesn’t detract from the enjoyability of the puppet show.

David Seidler’s script cracks along, with plenty of square-jawed, stiff-upper-lipped Britishness – all nicely subverted by Logue and his antipodean turns of phrase. The cast is fairly uniformly excellent – though Guy Pearce isn’t totally convincing. Rush revels in the self-assured absurdity of Logue’s methods, and Firth’s charm easily overcomes the Duke’s slightly unfortunate tendency to be a bit of a prig. Perhaps the real gem among such a fine collection of performances though, is Helena Bonham-Carter’s rendering of the evenutally-to-be Queen Mother. She’s stoic, efficient and conservative, yet loving, likeable and at times hilarious – in fact everything Elizabeth herself was so famously reported to be. It makes a nice change to see her play a character in a mainstream movie who isn’t either a homicidal or suicidal maniac.

Yes, the King’s Speech is predictable; it’s old school, English film-making at the oldest of English schools. There are lots of nice costumes, cut glass accents and profound conversations about the importance of “femily” and “tredition” (go on, try the accent). But that predictability doesn’t stifle the story. If anything it lends it an air of reassuring familiarity. There are uncomfortable moments in this movie; it’s not easy watching a man who has been bullied and psychologically abused all his life struggle to speak in public. But all the way through you, me and everyone else watching knows that there’ll be a triumphant finale. It needs that cosy knowledge buried away in the subconscious to let the audience relax a tad and enjoy the fine performances and rip-roaring script. Yes it may be predictable, but when it’s this good, so is this year’s awards season. Long live the King – and his speech.

9/10

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