#92 The King’s Speech
(2010, Tom Hooper)
“I have a right to be heard! I have a voice!”
If you believe the hype, The King’s Speech is essentially the movie that single-handedly saved the British film industry. A wholly British production, unaided by funding from foreign investment, it became an instant success, doing well at the box office and on DVD. It even nabbed a Best Picture Oscar in the process, proving that the British are definitely still a force to be reckoned with in cinematic circles. But the real question is, just how good is it?
It tells the true story of Prince Albert, the man who became King George VI, the current queen’s father and a terrible stutterer, played by Colin Firth. Realising he can’t avoid public speaking as a member of the royal family, he seeks help for his stutter. His wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), enlists the help of an Australian named Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), a man with unusual techniques and shows no signs of treating the royals as anything but people on his level.
I was genuinely surprised by The King’s Speech. Based on the hype, I was expecting an incredibly dull, serious movie which placed the royals in great reverence and presented a flat, clichéd tale of someone overcoming the odds to become a perfect human being. What I got instead was a wonderfully played comedy drama full of smart, subtle humour and absolutely no attempt to place the royal family on a pedestal. The royals here are presented as any other person would be – flawed, miserable and liable to do the wrong thing.
It was the humour that struck me above all. The expectation was that the movie would present the same stuffiness that the real royals seem to suffer from, but as soon as Lionel walks on screen, the movie as a whole seems to take on his attitude, being sympathetic to the king while simultaneously chuckling at the pomp and ceremony of simply being a member of the royal family.
Any pro-royal sentiment I felt the movie had was also squashed by the concerns of the royal cast. They’re almost all miserable. Prince Edward (Guy Pearce) is upset because he’s unable to marry the woman he loves simply because she’s a divorcee from Maryland and society frowns on that sort of thing, while there are huge hints that Bertie’s stammer was caused by simply being unhappy with royal life. Elizabeth expresses an opinion that she initially didn’t want to marry into the royal family because of the stress of being in the public eye. Essentially, the movie almost questions the nature of the royal family, which I didn’t expect.
And what makes all that misery so watchable is the fantastic performances from the cast. Firth’s stammer is believable, when it could have been so easy to overplay it or make it silly. Rush is brilliant as the no-nonsense speech therapist, showing a subtle caring side underneath a sarcastic exterior. Carter seemed to be enjoying herself far too much as the Queen Mother, making her entertaining to watch.
Even the expected clichéd ending wasn’t as much of a cliché as expected. Sure, movies like this always end with the sufferer overcoming their problem and becoming a better person, and while The King’s Speech does do this too, it does it realistically. It’s clear King George is going to be stuck with his condition for the rest of his life, but he learns to deal with and control it. In other words, he overcomes his condition in the way someone with a real stammer would, and for this I actually applaud the film-makers.
Of course, not everyone will like this movie. If you have an aversion to anything British, you will hate this movie, since it’s as British as they come. Also, it’s mostly people talking and feels more like theatre than a movie, so any aversion to that would also be problematic.
But overall, The King’s Speech is a genuinely great film filled with unexpected subtle humour and brilliant performances across the board, as well as a much more realistic take on how someone comes to terms with a stammer.
Starring Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, Timothy Spall, Derek Jacobi, Jennifer Ehle & Michael Gambon
Written by David Seidler
Produced by Iain Canning, Emile Sherman & Gareth Unwin
Music score by Alexandre Desplat
Cinematography by Danny Cohen
Edited by Tariq Anwar
Favourite Scene: Lionel decides to sit in the throne during the coronation rehearsal, angering Bertie. But then we realise his reasons for doing so…
Scene That Bugged Me: Bertie comments on a speech by Hitler. I’m sorry, but it just felt like King George was inspired to speak better by Hitler. HITLER WAS AN INSPIRATION. No, movie. Don’t do that
Watch it if: You wish to support the British film industry
Avoid it if: You can’t stand anything royal-related