Friday, February 11, 2011

The King's Speech

The King's Speech is the second nostalgic British historical drama that I have seen in recent weeks. Two such films might be too few to infer a trend, though it could be claimed that the British have been looking nostalgically at their history since Dad's Army arrived on TV.

The King's Speech follows Prince Albert, Duke of York, (second son of George V) as he struggles to overcome his stammer with the help of an unorthodoxy Australian speech therapist, Lionel Logue. The prince is under pressure from his father, George V, to do more public speaking and this becomes more urgent as his father dies and his elder brother is on a collision course with the British establishment, that will see Albert become King George VI in his place.

The way this story was told made it feel like a fairy story.
The nice but shy prince is cursed by his overbearing father and teased by his brothers. His princess hears about a magician who can cure the curse and sets up a meeting. The treatment is slow, meanwhile his father, the bad king, dies and the new king is feckless and runs off with the evil witch. Leaving the stuttering younger brother to reluctantly become king and make the speech of his life rallying his people in their darkest hour and leading them to victory against the evil empire with his plucky little queen and the magician at his side.

This sentimental treatment of history is reinforced by the look of the film. London is foggy and quaint. The countryside looks unspoilt. The royals look and act regal. The common people are respectful and keep their distance. In addition there is a cute side story around Lionel Logue's family. Plus some historical titbits to keep the history buffs amused.

There have been some liberties with the truth to assist with the story telling. For instance Winston Churchill is introduced into the film giving advice to the Duke of York at a time when he was an out of favour backbencher.

One thing I didn't understand was that during the first consult Lionel demonstrated that Albert could deliver a speech without stuttering while listening to music through headphones. But for a reason that is never explained, this technique is never used when Albert/George VI is giving later radio speeches.

Anne found the CGI intrusive. It occasionally leaves the impression that the actors have accidentally wandered into a computer game set in 1930s London.

But it is hard to be overly critical of this film as it is well crafted. A story about royalty and leadership is brought down to a human level. Our sympathies are tugged firmly in the direction of the future George IV. The abdication crisis is explained without it coming to dominate the film. The build-up to WWII is signaled

Colin Firth plays Prince Albert in a way that reminded me of his shy and retiring author role in Love Actually with the addition of the stutter. Geoffrey Rush plays Lionel Logue as a more rounded character which is useful as he has to portray most of the friendship between Lionel and the future king.

Much of the tension in the film comes exploiting the natural tension we all feel when listening to a stutterer -- will they manage to get to the end of the sentence or not?

Despite this being a story of how a shy and damaged man became a great king and inspiring leader, there is in counterpoint, a republican theme. This is also a story of two princes, neither of whom wants to be king. Hence the film slyly poses the republican criticism, namely: isn't hereditary monarchy a stupid way of choosing a leader.

Ian's rating 3.5/5 Anne's rating 4/5