Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The King's Speech

Directed by Tom Hooper and written by David Seilder, The King’s Speech tells the story of how King George VI overcame his stammer with the help of an eccentric speech therapist.  The film is an historical drama about the time when King George VI, who was then known as Prince Albert, Duke of York where he gave a speech in 1925 that was a big ordeal to the moment he gave his big speech to his country as they were to enter World War II.  Playing the role of King George VI is Colin Firth while Geoffrey Rush plays the role of Lionel Logue, the eccentric speech therapist.  Also starring Helena Bohnam Carter, Jennifer Ehle, Michael Gambon, Timothy Spall, Derek Jacobi, Eve Best, and Guy Pearce.  The King’s Speech is a remarkable, inspiring historical drama from Tom Hooper.

It’s 1925 at the British Empire Exhibition in Wembley Stadium as Prince Albert Frederick Arthur George, Duke of York is to give a speech.  Accompanied by his wife Lady Elizabeth (Helena Bohnam Carter), Albert gives his speech where the whole British Empire listened as he stammered through his speech as it became a horrific ordeal.  Nine years later with no success to overcome his stammer and through various speech therapists, Albert has given up trying to deal with therapists as Elizabeth wants to find someone who can help.  After learning about Lionel Logue through a league of speech therapists, Elizabeth meets with the eccentric Logue who offers to help out though under his rules.

Albert reluctantly takes Logue’s ideas but after one day where Logue has him read some work while he listens to music.  Albert leaves upset only to realize that after listening to the recording that Logue’s methods were working.  More sessions with Logue managed to help Albert as he became more confident with public speaking.  Even as Logue tries not to tell his wife Myrtle (Jennifer Ehle) and his sons about the fact that he’s treating the Duke of York.  Following the death of Albert’s father King George V (Michael Gambon), Albert’s older brother Edward (Guy Pearce) becomes the king in early 1936.  Yet, Edward is more concerned about his new love Wallis Simpson (Eve Best) who he wants to marry. 

Albert turns to Logue about his own issues about his father and brother as he is already content with being a Duke as well as a father for his young daughters Elizabeth (Freya Wilson) and Margaret (Ramona Marquez).  Yet, when it becomes clear that Edward’s infatuation with Simpson was more important than is duties.  Parliament member Winston Churchill (Timothy Spall) realizes that Edward’s involvement with Simpson is a bad idea as he reveals to Albert about what is happening in Nazi Germany as its clear that Albert might have to become king.  With Edward deciding to abdicate the throne to marry Simpson, Albert turns to Logue who tries to assure Albert about what to do.

With Edward no longer deciding to be king and Albert to become King George VI, it becomes clear that he’s got entire United Kingdom and its empire all over his shoulders with Elizabeth aware of how overwhelmed he is.  Turning once again to Logue for help for the upcoming ceremony to be king.  Though some including the Archbishop of Canterbury (Derek Jacobi) question about Logue’s credentials.  Albert wants Logue there to help as they rehearsed his ceremony which becomes a success.  With Churchill’s warnings about Nazi Germany becoming true and the resignation of Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin (Anthony Andrews).  Albert needed Logue’s help once again following Germany’s invasion of Poland to give the speech of his lifetime as his country are to enter World War II.

While the story of how King George VI was able to overcome his stammer and be the voice of an empire fighting against Nazi Germany is an inspirational one.  Yet, the film is really about George’s friendship with Lionel Logue as well as the love and support of Queen Elizabeth.  While historical dramas and bio-pics do get to play around history and put scenes where not everything is exactly right or accurate to serious history buffs.  The film doesn’t take the historical contexts of the film seriously at all but rather explore the individuals involved with the story.  Notably about King George VI who is a man who knows his duties and place in the world while is content with being a husband and father.  Still, having to speak publicly is a nightmare while audiences get to have an idea of what could’ve caused his stammer.

David Seidler’s screenplay does a fascinating job in exploring Albert’s vulnerability as well as the fact that he’s got a bad temper and a smoking habit.  Yet, there’s also a side of Albert where he is a wonderful father who loves his daughters very much.  When his father had died and his brother abdicating the throne for love, all of the weight of the United Kingdom and its empire is so much for Albert to handle as he has to be the voice of an entire group of people.  There’s two people that he would go to for help in both Lionel Logue and Queen Elizabeth.  Logue is an eccentric, humorous man who isn’t a licensed therapist but his experience from World War I and helping traumatized soldiers is something that Albert discovers as he also knows about speech problems.

Logue’s unorthodox methods do add some humor to the film where there’s a scene where Albert gets to say some profanity in a comical manner.  In some ways, the scenes with Albert and Logue have the elements of a buddy film where the two become equals as Logue helps bring confidence to Albert.  Then there’s Queen Elizabeth as she is portrayed as a loving woman who is willing to help Albert and be by his side when he has to do his duties.  Yet, she is revealed to be a woman who was already content in being a wife and mother as well as the Lady of York.  When Edward abdicates the throne, she too is reluctant in being queen but is more concerned for her husband as there is great monologue to Albert about why she married him.

Seidler’s screenplay definitely plays well to the characters as well as the film’s historical context with an actual idea of when some of these events took place along with locations.  Yet, it’s Tom Hooper’s direction that really brings the movie together.  Hooper definitely recreates the look of early 20th Century England with little visual effects and little production design in the exteriors as mostly creates an intimate yet stylish approach to the film.  Even as he finds way to tell the story about the friendship between King George VI and Lionel Logue where there’s a great scene of Albert and Logue talking with not many edits while Albert is putting glue for a model plane.  There’s moments where Albert is trying to talk by singing where it could be comical but Hooper presents the scene in such a subtle manner.  Hooper’s direction is truly spectacular where he knows what the film is needed while not overplaying it or underplaying as he gets the audience to explore the man that is King George VI.

Cinematographer Danny Cohen does an excellent job with the film‘s colorful yet straightforward photography.  Notably on the exterior scenes with some foggy but lush shots of London that included a scene with a steadicam where Albert and Lionel were walking.  Editor Tariq Anwar does a great job with the film’s editing where he maintains a wonderful rhythm to the film’s comical and dramatic moments including the climatic scene for the king’s wartime speech while maintaining a leisurely pace for the film.

Production designer Eve Stewart, along with set decorator Judy Farr and art director Netty Chapman, does an amazing job with the film‘s art direction for many of the interiors in the palaces and sets  Notably Albert‘s coronation stage and Logue‘s office where he and Albert do all of their work.  The art direction of the film is really one the film’s technical highlights.  Costume designer Jenny Beavan does a fantastic job with the period costumes from the dresses that Helena Bohnam Carter wears as Elizabeth along with more tuxedos and suits that Colin Firth wears including a more casual suit for Geoffrey Rush‘s Logue character. 

Visual effects supervisors Derek Bird and Thomas M. Horton do a wonderful job with the minimal visual effects that is used for the film.  Notably the blimps that appear in the sky just before the climatic speech of King George VI.  Sound editor Lee Walpole does a very good job with the hollow sounds of the halls in the coronation rehearsal along with more intimate settings at Logue’s office.  Even in the scenes at the large homes including a raucous party scene where Albert is trying to talk to Edward about Simpson in a chaotic atmosphere as the sound is truly spectacular.

Alexandre Desplat’s score is marvelous with its array of chime-tingling arrangements, subtle melodies, and bombast for many of the film’s comic and dramatic scenes.  Desplat also brings soothing pieces to play to some of the film’s more heavy dramatic moments to convey the emotions of King George VI.  Other music in the film used are pieces from the 1930s as well as a few classical pieces.

The casting by Nina Gold is truly phenomenal as the film features some small but memorable performances from Anthony Andres as prime minister Stanley Baldwin, Roger Hammond as one of Albert’s early speech therapists, Jake Hathaway as one of Logue’s young patients, and Eve Best as the controversial Wallis Simpson.  Other notable small roles include Calum Gittins, Dominic Applewhite, and Ben Wimsett as the son of Lionel Logue, Claire Bloom as Queen Mary, Derek Jacobi as the Archbishop, Ramona Marquez as Princess Margaret, and Freya Wilson as Princess Elizabeth, who would later become Queen Elizabeth II.

Though they don’t appear very much in the film, Jennifer Ehle and Michael Gambon are very good in their respective roles as Myrtle Logue and King George V.  Ehle as the supportive wife who gets a big surprise about who her husband is treating while Gambon plays King George V with a great ferocity as someone who is often very controlling.  Guy Pearce is excellent as Edward, Albert’s older brother who is irresponsible and in love with American socialite as Pearce delivers his best scene when he gives his abdication speech.  Timothy Spall is in fine form as Winston Churchill though he doesn’t look or sound like the future prime minister.  Spall is able to convey the personality of the famed man who would help the UK win World War II.

Helena Bohnam Carter is radiant as Queen Elizabeth as a woman whose sensitivity and comical manner hits all the right notes needed to play this great personality.  Carter’s use of light comical dialogue along with great scene where she comforts Firth shows that she is definitely one of the great actresses to ever come out of the U.K.  Even in scenes where she and Firth have great chemistry whether its comical or dramatic along with some wonderful exchanges with Geoffrey Rush. Rush delivers an amazing performance as Lionel Logue as he brings the famed speech therapist to life with a lot of wit.  Even as he and Firth have great scenes where Rush plays the man who tries to get Firth’s character to relax and feel confident.  It’s definitely Geoffrey Rush at his finest.

Finally, there’s Colin Firth in what is definitely one of his greatest roles to date.  A great follow-up following the acclaimed he received in Tom Ford’s A Single Man as Firth embodies the bravery and vulnerability of King George VI.  Even when had to stammer and say “fuck” in order to get the words to come out of his mouth.  It’s a performance where he allows himself to be vulnerable and make Albert or “Bertie” become more human as he is struggling with his new role as a king.  The development of his character goes hand-in-hand with the way Firth makes Albert into a stronger figure while giving the character a lot of humor.  It’s definitely a performance that truly solidifies Colin Firth as one of cinema’s great actors.

The King’s Speech is a remarkable and uplifting film from Tom Hooper helmed by a magnificent performance by Colin Firth.  Along with some great supporting work from Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bohnam Carter, it’s a film that gives audience not just a great history lesson.  It’s also film that is inspiring without all of the trappings that are often drowned in sentimentality.  It’s a film that gives royal figures like King George VI a chance to feel equal with the average person who can overcome something like a stammer as he became the voice that helped the British Empire deal with the Axis in World War II.  In the end, The King’s Speech is a glorious film from Tom Hooper that gives its audience something to cheer about.

Tom Hooper Films: (Red Dust) - (The Damned United) - Les Miserables (2012 film)

© thevoid99 2010


Anonymous said...

It's not much different from other period pieces I have seen, but the performances, and just overall good-hearted tone, make this enjoyable. Good Review!

thevoid99 said...

Thank you. This was a surprising film that I found myself to be entertained by. I know Colin Firth will win the Oscar but at least it's a performance that I can call Oscar-worthy though the Oscars don't really mean anything.