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February 16, 2011 / Siobhan Argent

The King’s Speech

This review doesn’t begin with me warbling on obsessively about how good Colin Firth is in this film. Nor Geoffrey Rush. I’m going to hold back for just a moment to give you a run-down on the plot.

Set around the decade between 1925 and 1935–36 (OK, so I’m stretching here), The King’s Speech follows the path of Prince Albert (Colin Firth), otherwise known as Bertie, on the long road from awkward, shy stammerer to leader of England as King George VI. After Albert’s particularly painful speech at Wembley stadium in 1925, his wife Elizabeth (known to most Gen Y-ers as the Queen Mother and played by Helena Bonham Carter) tracks down Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), an Australian expert in ‘speech defects’. While ‘Bertie’ is accustomed to playing second fiddle to his brother Edward (Guy Pearce), it all starts getting a little hairy for the younger brother when Edward abdicates the throne to marry a twice-divorced Wallis Simpson.

And…cue the mandatory blubbering about Colin Firth’s greatness. It doesn’t help that I am a huge fan of the BBC Pride and Prejudice mini-series that shot him into the celebrity stratosphere (within British-based society anyway). Like many other P&P obsessives probably did, I spotted Jennifer Ehle of Elizabeth-Bennet-fame playing Lionel Logue’s wife.

While most women may swoon under Firth’s Mr. Darcy, the demands of playing King George VI is an entirely different matter. Firth manages to be simultaneously downtrodden by years of emotional distance, and still snap back into the arrogant, angry royalist used to getting his own way. He vacillates between weakness and immense courage so quickly it’s amazing he can even keep track of it. And he does all of this so convincingly that it’s impossible not to feel yourself sucked into the turmoil of his struggles. Helena Bonham Carter is also brilliant as the Queen Mother, managing to be both accessible and innately regal at the same time. Her interaction with Logue’s wife is rather fascinating, and she also seems to compliment her husband’s needs perfectly.

And while Colin Firth and Carter are superb, it would be difficult to give any credibility to Bertie’s transition were it not for the suitably quirky Geoffrey Rush. Running time isn’t really an issue when these two are on screen; Bertie and Lionel easily captivate the audience with their push-pull interchanges, much like watching bulls lock horns. Logue is the key to the soon-to-be King’s torments and hence, the secret to his speech impediment. In a few seconds he is capable of making Bertie snap from mild-mannered aristocrat to snarling, wounded tiger, and for some reason, this is just the cathartic release necessary for a man destined to rule a large chunk of the English-speaking world.

I loved this film for its high production value, pitch-perfect acting, powerful script and a distinct lack of the American-style emotionalism that so often pervades these types of films. But there was just something a teency bit dull about the whole affair at times. Perhaps it is just the staidness that seems to characterise the British royalty. Some of the cinematography also seemed awfully heavy handed, shoving us into Colin Firth’s face and using shots angled from the ground-up to encourage a sense of pressure. And the choice of filter was quite unforgiving; everyone looked drained and tired, but this is probably a good thing. We get too many perfectly poised popstars in film anyway.

With that in mind, I may be a victim of my own movie choices. I am much too accustomed to the crassly sentimental overtures that American films usually can’t resist plugging into the ends of these types of movies. It’s often encapsulated in the hard, long stare, the gracious nod of acknowledgement, sometimes even one bro embracing another bro. Thankfully, this is not really the right style for The King’s Speech, and for that reason I thank goodness this film fell into mostly British hands. It somehow works so much better without the overflow of sentiment. Phew!


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