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Should I Watch..? 'The King's Speech' (2010)

Benjamin is a former volunteer DJ at his local hospital radio station. He has been reviewing films online since 2004.

Film's poster

Film's poster

What's the big deal?

The King's Speech is a historical biopic film released in 2010 and was written by David Seidler. The film is based on the previously untold true story of King George VI who was forced to confront his stammer upon ascending to the throne with the unconventional help of a speech therapist. The film stars Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter and was directed by Tom Hooper. The film was a labour of love for Seidler who first discovered the story during the 1980s while he was being treated for a stammer of his own. After being requested by Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother to not write about the story during her lifetime, Seidler abandoned the project until 2005 when he originally wrote the story for a stage adaptation. The film was a critical and commercial success, earning more than $427 million worldwide as well as a host of awards including the coveted Best Picture Oscar at that year's Academy Awards. The film was widely praised by critics although there was some reservation regarding the historical accuracy of the film.

Enjoyable

What's it about?

As guest of honour at the closing ceremony of the British Empire Exhibition, Prince Albert (the future King George VI) is invited to speak to the crowds. However, his address exposes a previously unpublicised stammer. His wife, Elizabeth, had secretly been helping her husband overcome his speaking difficulties via a succession of therapists and doctors but to no avail. After his very public humiliation, "Bertie" is encouraged to seek out yet another specialist - this time in the form of Australian-born speech therapist Lionel Logue, whose informal manner quickly angers Bertie who is unused to such behaviour.

Believing that their initial session is going nowhere, Bertie is astonished to discover that Lionel's recording of the session features himself reading with much less stammering than before. While Bertie and Lionel continue to explore the Prince's issues, a constitutional crisis emerges after Bertie's brother, King Edward VIII, abdicates and passes the crown onto Bertie. Worse still, Britain is thrust into a war with Germany and needs the new King's leadership to inspire its people. Can the new King George VI overcome his speaking difficulties in this dire moment of need or will the enormity of the challenge overwhelm him?

Trailer

What's to like?

Hooper is a director with an exquisite eye for detail, which makes him an ideal director for a costume drama such as this. The film looks amazing with characters, sets, props and atmosphere all feeling authentic and evocative of Britain at the time. Thankfully, the film doesn't go down the traditional route of depicting the country on the precipice of war, gloomy shadows overwhelming everything. This is a much more personal story, as it should be - if anything, the war is really just a footnote to the story as if it's helping to bring the film to a natural close. And despite his lofty status and arrogance, the film depicts George VI as an ordinary man struggling with both his role and his speech. We see the angry and frustrated side of him as well as the more rational side which knows that this is the only way forward. Firth thoroughly deserved his Oscar for Best Actor for portraying this complex character, finally shedding his reputation in the UK of playing Mr Darcy in the BBC's adaptation of Pride And Prejudice way back in the mid-Nineties. This is a measured and pitch-perfect performance that remains the best of Firth's long career so far.

But this is far from a one man show. Rush is typically superb as Logue, the rough-edged gentleman who slowly works his magic and solidifies a real friendship with the tortured monarch. Helena Bonham Carter is also at her regal best as Elizabeth, a woman more associated for people of my generation for simply being an old member of Elizabeth II's entourage for many years. Carter's Elizabeth is determined and open-minded as well as encouraging to her husband, knowing what is at stake. In fact, the film's cast is loaded with quality throughout including Spall's wonderfully bulldoggish Churchill and Pearce's equally arrogant Edward VIII. The film is a remarkably easy watch, one that both inspires its audience (it was the first time I saw any film in a cinema where the audience applauded as the end credits started to roll) and teaches us about the often unspoken problems we all deal with behind closed doors, helping us to understand others and generate empathy for someone who is as far removed from the common man as you can imagine.

Firth is excellent as the future King George VI, balancing frustration and pathos along with grace and even humour.

Firth is excellent as the future King George VI, balancing frustration and pathos along with grace and even humour.

Fun Facts

  • Just nine weeks before filming started, Lionel Logue's grandson Mark discovered a box in his attic containing many of Lionel's note from his sessions with George VI as well as letters from the King. Knowing that the film was in production, Mark handed them over to Hooper and Seidler who then used them to flesh the two men's characters.
  • Logue was originally an actor who became a speech therapist. In order to help him prepare for the role, Firth turned to his sister Katie - who was an actress before becoming a speech therapist.
  • Carter's scenes could only be filmed at the weekend as she was busy filming Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part One and Two during the week.
  • The film was originally rated 15 by the BBFC due to the amount of swearing in the film. However, the filmmakers appealed against this decision and the film was then re-rated to 12A. The exact same thing had happened to the film Made In Dagenham a few weeks earlier which was rated 15 purely because of the profanity but then changed to a 12A upon appeal.
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What's not to like?

There are some obvious historical inaccuracies in the film and more which are not so obvious. The real George VI learnt to overcome his stammer with Logue in the 1920s, long before the Second World War even started. The King's Speech also isn't afraid to mischaracterise certain individuals for dramatic effect - Churchill's aura of mystique is unchallenged while the real Edward VIII is turned almost into a villain although this was far from the case. In reality, this doesn't matter a great deal unless historical anachronism is your particular bugbear because the film is too good to allow such things to impede it. This is more about one man's struggle than documenting a specific period of British history so I can't say it bothered me much.

What did bug me was the film's sense of deliberately targeting an Academy-friendly audience. Yes, the film is very well made and the cast give a great account of themselves but the subject matter felt a little too... is 'worthy' the word? Maybe - the film screams "look at me" to a very specific but influential group of people and I wonder whether a film about a prince overcoming a speech impediment would really have generated so much box office potential without the awards buzz that accompanied it. The film doesn't exactly have much in the way of appeal for ordinary cinemagoers. But that's fine too. Not everything has to have explosions, gratuitous sex and violence or a Marvel superhero to justify its existence at the multiplex so if you're looking for a more genteel or cerebral experience then this will suit you fine.

The film is wonderfully evocative of not just the period of history but the unconventional relationship at the heart of the story.

The film is wonderfully evocative of not just the period of history but the unconventional relationship at the heart of the story.

Should I watch it?

What it lacks in excitement, The King's Speech more than makes up for in quality, story telling and performance. With Firth giving a performance of a lifetime, the film's attention to detail and strong characterisation is a winning antidote to an audience usually fed on under-cooked box office fodder and reheated sequels. This is an uplifting and gripping tale that seems too far-fetched to be true but real enough for viewers everywhere to support.

Great For: Firth's awards cabinet, lazy Sunday evenings, older audiences, educating people about speech defects

Not So Great For: hyperactive children, historical accuracy, action junkies

What else should I watch?

It's such a shame that Hooper's most recent release, the critically reviled adaptation of Cats, has kinda overshadowed the rest of his career which had been quite respectably up until that point. Debuting with 2009's The Damned United, Hooper's career has seen a small number of films achieving a high degree of critical praise from The King's Speech to biopic The Danish Girl to another stage musical adaptation, Les Misérables. Hopefully, his career can recover after Cats was rightly kicked by almost everyone but it remains to be seen if people are prepared to forgive or forget about a film with digital butt holes in it. Seriously.

One other thing in this film's favour is the unexpected sensitivity with which it treats the subject of stammering. Often used as a comic device in films such as A Fish Called Wanda, it isn't often that we see a character stammer on screen in a way that generates sympathy or exposes us to what life is like when struggling with speech defects. Coming-of-age drama Rocket Science follows a teenage stammerer as he signs up for his school's debate society and falls in love along the way. But positive depictions of stuttering are hard to come by as they are often seen to be poor in a crisis (Pearl Harbor or Pan's Pabyrinth)), psychologically damaged (One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest) or even plain evil (Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone).

Main Cast

ActorRole

Colin Firth

King George VI

Geoffrey Rush

Lionel Logue

Helena Bonham Carter

Queen Elizabeth

Guy Pearce

King Edward VIII

Timothy Spall

Winston Churchill

Derek Jacobi

Cosmo Gordon Lang

Jennifer Ehle

Myrtle Logue

Michael Gambon

King George V

Technical Info

DirectorTom Hooper

Screenplay

David Seidler

Running Time

118 minutes

Release Date (UK)

7th January, 2011

Rating

12A

Genre

Biography, Drama, History

Academy Awards

Best Film, Best Actor (Firth), Best Director, Best Original Screenplay

Academy Award Nominations

Best Supporting Actor (Rush), Best Supporting Actress (Carter), Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Costume Design, Best Original Music, Best Sound Mixing, Best Art Direction

© 2022 Benjamin Cox

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