118 min Director: Tom Hooper
Genre: Drama | History Writer: David Seidler (screenplay)
Release date: 7 January 2011 (UK) Stars: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter
It’s not easy being a royal (no, hear me out).
Warning: this review may contain spoilers (although if you know your history, not much will come as a surprise)!
Although the myriad responsibilities imparted upon you, should you be born of noble stock, have been somewhat reduced nowadays – speaking to the public on Christmas Day and being caught in public in an offensive fancy dress costume seem to be the only requirements – almost a century ago, the king was expected to carry out some much more important duties. Such a role entailed influencing the government, maintaining the prestige of the Windsor bloodline and not least, speaking to the public of your kingdom.
But what if, like the majority of people, you’re terrified at the prospect of speaking to such large audiences? What if you have a debilitating stammer that hinders your ability to communicate effectively? And what if the duty of declaring the beginning of a major conflict to the nation, one that would eventually cost the lives of millions of people around the world, rested squarely on your shoulders?
So sets the story of The King’s Speech, the biographical piece on the trials and tribulations of King George VI. Focusing on the life of Albert Frederick Arthur George (or Bertie to his family), the film follows the royal as he reluctantly accepts the position as ruler of the British Isles at a time when Hitler’s Nazi Germany was on the brink of invading Poland, all the while battling a debilitating stammer that destroyed his confidence and the abdication of his brother from the throne to be with his muse. Fortunately Bertie encounters Lionel Logue, a highly-esteemed speech therapist who will not give up on any patient, be they of royal blood or otherwise.
What follows is one of the most unorthodox ‘buddy’ films you’re ever likely to see; despite the fact that they come from wildly differing lifestyles – Bertie being a stuffy, high-class aristocrat and Logue an eccentric Australian – and initially start off with an understandable degree of friction against each other, the two begin to bond endearingly with each other over the course of the film. Seeing the two men begin to realise the fact that both need one another and their mutual respect of each other increasing as the film goes on is an endearing and inspiring delight.
The casting of every character in the film is brilliant. Rather than returning to his usual handsome bachelor role in most of his films, Colin Firth instead imbues his character with the range of emotions that accompanies such a debilitating speech impediment. Watching him lock up when addressing an expecting audience and stumbling over his words when trying to express himself to his friends is tragic. But seeing him try to explain to his brother – the selfish, decadent and arrogant Edward VIII – that he doesn’t actually want to be king, only to become unable to speak, is nigh on heart-rending.
The emotion Firth fills the character with through struggling with public engagements or playing with his daughters is exceptionally captivating.
It’s not all doom and gloom though, and that’s where the delightfully unconventional Lionel Logue comes into the picture. Geoffrey Rush obviously had a fantastic time playing the character and so it shows; taking life in his stride, always seeing the best in people and never giving up on anybody no matter how tough life may get, he is the perfect foil to Firth’s stuffy, restricted prince. Every scene containing the two, be it one of their often-hilarious therapy sessions (there’s one profanity-strewn section that will have you in stitches) or a more poignant heart-to-heart, will have you entranced.
The King’s Speech also draws parallels to public relations and the obstacles individuals have to overcome to find success in industry. Reputation and image are two themes that hold great importance, both in the film and in PR. Bertie’s determination to portray a confident and competent leader and uphold the royal standing, mirrors the actions organisations take to improve and maintain a positive public image. The comparison is even more obvious when we compare it to political public relations, and the efforts of politicians such as Cameron and Clegg to portray a strong, united government. Further more, the idea of a individual helping a leader out of the spotlight, like Lionel’s therapy to Bertie, can be compared to the ‘spin doctors’ of public relations – think Alastair Campbell to Tony Blair.
Interestingly, from a metafictional point of view, the film succeeds in altering the views one may have on the royal family (whether this was ever the writers intention can be determined by the viewer). Even those that hold no loyalty or allegiance to the Sovereign will feel sympathetic towards the characters, as made evident through the film’s nuances. Bertie’s feelings towards his abusive father and neglectful mother show that, no matter how rich and privileged members of the royal family may be, they are still human just like the rest of us and are by no means invincible to the problems and maladies that affect us all. In this respect, the film creates some positive PR for a family that has come under public scrutiny fairy frequently in the past decade or so.
To conclude, The King’s Speech is an engaging, heart-warming and memorable piece of cinema. The exquisite lead performances, already imbued with warmth and personality, are only bolstered by the accomplished depictions of minor characters, such as Helena Bonham Carter as the loving Queen Elizabeth and Michael Gambon as the uncaring George V and Timothy Spall as the pragmatic Winston Churchill, enriching the world around them in the process. A triumph of cinema, it would be a crime if the film’s creators weren’t required to give some speeches of their own at this year’s Oscars.
If you’re interesting in writing a book or film review for Behind the Spin, get it touch with the section editor Clare Callery via email: cs.callery @ gmail.com (no spaces)