Friday, 14 January 2011

The King's Speech: Film Review

The King's Speech is tipped for Oscar glory, and it's no surprise. A richly enjoyable, crowd-pleaser with big ambitions and a full political and social back story.

Based on the true story of Albert, Duke of York (Colin Firth), who, for as long as anyone can remember has struggled with a stammer; so severe at times he cannot form any words at all. His father, George V (Michael Gambond) mistakes harsh instructions with medicine, and the doctors sought aren't any better as they stuff Albert's mouth with marbles and tell him that smoking will help relax his lungs. Eventually, Albert's wife (Helena Bonham-Carter) takes the matter into her own hands and discovers a failed Australian actor turned speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), to help cure her husband.

What entails is a battle for control. The dialogue between Albert and Logue is sharp, witty and fascinating: it is this interaction that powers the movie forward and grips the viewer. Albert insists on formality and rules, he requires help in purely physical terms, not emotionally, personally or psychologically. But Logue considers it to be his castle and therefore his rules. Gradually, the sessions turn to therapy as a friendship is formed between the two and Albert begins to open up. A new side of Albert is revealed as the audience learns how Albert lost his brother at a young age, was starved by his childhood nannies and teased terribly by his brothers.

Firth is immaculate from the opening scene, where both he and an audience at Wembley Stadium suffer prolonged embarrassment, as he struggles to deliver a speech. I doubt anyone has ever looked as sick with fear as Firth does at the beginning of this scene. His vocal performance is unquestionably good - it cannot be easy to learn to stammer - stirring emotions, yet never becoming wholly a subject of pity. Instead, Firth's Albert is short-tempered, prone to self-pity and snobbery. He is utterly absorbing.

Helena Bonham-Carter is pitch perfect. A sharp tongued, assured yet touchingly supportive royal wife. I might go as far as to suggest it is her best work to date, if only I had seen more of her.

Guy Pearce executes the frustratingly self-absorbed, glamorous older brother David to a tee, and strong support is added by Derek Jacobi as the worrisome and interfering Archbishop of Canterbury. I was also pleased to see Romona Marquez (from the BBC's Outnumbered) playing the young Princess Margaret.

Despite the topic The King's Speech is never overly sentimental, and with it's neat inclusion of the rise of Fascism and Hitler, the Depression and the development of technology, and media with it, it travels beyond the expectations of a British period drama.

Eloquently and beautifully shot, the film turns the royal establishment into individuals, each with their own story. One critic suggested this may even leave 'a patriotic lump in the throat' of the viewer - a grand achievement today if there ever was one.

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