The King’s Speech: Royal Pains

IT TAKES LEADERSHIP TO CONFRONT A NATION’S FEAR. IT TAKES FRIENDSHIP TO CONQUER YOUR OWN.

kingsspeechAfter watching this brilliant drama, I knew I had to consult YouTube for the speech King George VI made after Britain’s declaration of war against Germany. Sometimes, historical events portrayed in films absurdly seem a bit small in comparison with the fictionalized version… but not in this case. The speech King George made in 1939 sounds like the one we hear in the movie. Decisive, yes, but slow and emphasizing certain words and consonants in a strange staccato way. This is truly a reformed stutterer – and his story brings a better understanding of the Windsors.

In 1925, the Duke of York (Colin Firth) is about to deliver a speech to the crowds at the Empire Exhibition at Wembley Stadium – but his wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) tearfully watches her husband get stuck on the first words. The Prince suffers from stuttering and many doctors have tried to cure him, to no avail. Now Elizabeth desperately turns to someone outside the circle of royal physicians, an Australian speech therapist who has set up shop in London. Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) agrees to see the Prince, although he’s not willing to surrender his principles just because he’s dealing with royalties.

Lionel insists on the Prince calling him Lionel and that he must be allowed to address the Prince as Bertie, which is a name only his wife and family use. The Prince reluctantly agrees, but the first session doesn’t end well…

Depressing and inspirational at the same time
Screenwriter David Seidler used to stammer when he was a kid. After overcoming it, he learned of the story how a speech therapist worked with King George VI for years, not only helping him beat his affliction, but also becoming a close friend in the process. The story, convincingly brought to life for this movie, could actually make an excellent play as well, relying heavily on its dialogue, which is frequently witty and insightful.

The future king and Lionel share an irreverent relationship at a time when the common man knew almost nothing about the royal family’s private sphere. Lionel becomes an actual friend to a person who’s been sheltered from the real world all his life and has suffered a great deal for it. There is particularly one discussion in the film between the two men where it is obvious what being a member of the royal family means; you do not get to have friends, your life is already set out for you and you do not get to be weak or sickly. George is not really made to fit into this prison… yet, in the end, when his older brother fails to honor the code, George turns out to be best suited for the role as head of state, in spite of his fragile psyche. A lesson that’s depressing and inspirational at the same time, made all the more compelling by Firth’s marvellous performance as George. He’s got the stutter down to a T, as well as the comically violent temper.

Rush is the perfect choice to do Lionel, a forthright type of character that he’s played in other films, and Bonham Carter is also convincing as Elizabeth, along with Guy Pearce and Michael Gambon as the two other kings, Edward VIII and George V. Alexandre Desplat’s music score is not as memorable though as that sequence where King George delivers his wartime speech, its melody emphasized by Beethoven’s powerful seventh symphony.

As for Tom Hooper, he knows how to turn history into riveting films and miniseries, not just technically, but also in a way that shines a new light on its great figures. Queen Elizabeth II reportedly appreciates this portrait of her father. Considering how critical it is of her family, perhaps it says something of her own opinions on how the Windsors raised their kids many years ago.

The King’s Speech 2010-Britain-U.S. 118 min. Color. Produced by Iain Canning, Emile Sherman, Gareth Unwin. Directed by Tom Hooper. Screenplay: David Seidler. Cinematography: Danny Cohen. Music: Alexandre Desplat. Editing: Tariq Anwar. Art Direction: Eve Stewart, Judy Farr. Costume Design: Jenny Beavan. Cast: Colin Firth (George VI), Geoffrey Rush (Lionel Logue), Helena Bonham Carter (Elizabeth), Guy Pearce, Timothy Spall, Derek Jacobi… Anthony Andrews, Claire Bloom, Michael Gambon.

Trivia: Co-executive produced by Rush. Paul Bettany was allegedly considered for the part of King George.

Oscars: Best Picture, Director, Actor (Firth), Original Screenplay. BAFTA: Best Film, British Film, Actor (Firth), Supporting Actor (Rush), Supporting Actress (Bonham Carter), Original Screenplay, Music. Golden Globe: Best Actor (Firth). European Film Awards: Best Actor (Firth), Editor.

Last word: “I […] began to think, ‘What is the visual analog? It’s stammering. How do I find a way to shoot Colin that will underline his predicament?’ I began to think that if you’re a stutterer, it’s about inhabiting silence, emptiness, and nothingness. Therefore, is there a way visually of talking about that? So I wanted to put Colin’s face in these close shots in constant relation to negative space. So I used these big empty walls in the consulting room in Logue’s apartment and framed Colin against these big empty walls. Sometimes, he’s small against in the corner with the wall above and overpowering him. Sometimes, there’s just a lot of head room. I like that the idea of the conversation and communication behind nothingness is blasted all in the therapy room. Then, if you look at what I’m doing on Geoffrey’s side, Geoffrey is against in the therapy room…it’s sort of a room like a fireplace. It’s all of his pictures, wall, and papers. It’s domestic and it’s cozy. I watched them make that kind of division in the close-up language between these two men and the worlds they came from.” (Hooper, Collider)

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