Wolfie at the movies: The King’s Speech

The King’s Speech (12a)  ****

Director: Tom Hooper
Starring: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce
R.T. 118 min.

The future King George VI has a stammer and, if he is to be up to the job of speaking to the nation, he needs to learn how to control it. Success comes when he is given speech therapy by Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) a maverick Australian speech therapist in this land-of-hope-and-glory buddie movie set in 1930s Britain.

They say:

“A touching, impeccably made drama with wonderful characters and some of the year’s most  memorable dialogue.” Daily Express

“A very special film indeed, one with a near perfect mix of pathos, humour and well-observed period detail.” Daily Mirror

“Complacent middlebrow tosh engineered for maximum awards bling.” Boston Globe

Wolfie says:

I had not thought about King George VI very much until going to see this film.  He is mostly remembered as being quite a nice chap who was the reluctant replacement for his much more glamourous brother, King Edward VIII who abdicated the throne in 1936 to marry his multi-divorced American mistress, Wallace Simpson and, thereby, supplying copy for many pieces of literary and cinematic tosh for anyone interested in royal romance in elegant period costumes.

Edward and Mrs Simpson have, of course, been “done” a lot on TV and in the cinema. Their’s is a grabbing tale of sex in high (and low) places with a touch of spice added by their, too easily forgiven, flirtation with Hitler and just enough generational rebellion from their shockingly self-indulgent behaviour in a stultifyingly dull British royal court. Younger brother George, with his debilitating stammer was the exact opposite of Edward and, as such, presented quite a challenge to the film-makers.

The amazing thing is that The King’s Speech is actually so engaging.

Its writer,  David Seidler wrote the screenplay some time ago and then decided to turn it into a play which was spotted and, before it ever actually made it on to the stage, it was turned back into a screenplay and filmed in a sensible and rather conservative way by its workman-like director, Tom Hooper. The result is one of those movies that British cinema is so good at – a glorified TV drama, expensively shot and designed with brilliant performances from a large cast of mostly British acting talent.

I would have loved to have seen a stage production with this cast because the best things are definitely the acting and the often very witty script which made me laugh out loud but what I missed was that extra element of visual excitement that belongs to the art of film-making.  Director, Tom Hooper relied to heavily on a basic vocabulary of shots and too often resorted to that old filmic cliche, the music-accompanied montage sequence whenever he wanted to move the action on. Poor old Beethoven, always inspiring,  was dragged in and often lazily used as a classical muzak track for acres of the film. For all of that, this is a handsome looking if over-safe film.

Colin Firth, is, these days, incapable of doing anything wrong. His long-suffering, troubled George VI fights heroically to control his stammer and, in so doing, over-comes a lot more of the psychological damage incurred in the royal house of Windsor. We are genuinely engaged in the struggle thanks to Firth’s intensely observed study of the physical difficulties and the horror of not being able to get those words out. Wisely, the director, allows the camera to follow much of Colin Firth’s performance in close-up.

The film is a quirky kind of buddie movie with the King, Bertie to his family, forming a moving relationship with his unconventional Australian speech therapist, Lionel Logue who manages, not just to get the King speaking but to knock off some of his in-breed royal stuffiness. Geoffrey Rush matches Firth’s performance every inch of the way and, without question, the film is worth seeing just for their scenes together.

Lionel Logue is used to say all the things that we feel about the silliest aspects of royalty and he is given some wonderful put down phrases but this is not a film that is going anywhere to knock the monarchy.
From the beginning, we are meant to be on the side of the status quo and history, as so often in filmed bio-pics, is made to fit the story where kings can change nations with a few well-chose words that may or may not have been difficult to say.

In the end, the film is a moving story about one man’s struggle against a physical ability and the power of friendship. In other words, it is basically a feel-good movie.

It is far from being a commentary on an important part of British history and we should be careful not to get too carried away by the film’s closing scenes of purple rhetoric and rousing music – the mid-20th. Century suffered much too much from having a surfeit of fluent inspirational public speakers.

Go see the film though, for Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush  and enjoy their beautifully written and often very funny dialogue.

There are some excellent supporting actors too led by Helena Bonham Carter as George’s wife, the future Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother who made me wish that the real Queen Mother had been allowed to do interviews if she was anything like the witty, intelligent and single-minded, as her film portrayal. I hope that Helena Bonham Carter, like the Queen Mum, will still be wowing us when she is 100.

Amidst all the campery of classic British period drama, there is always room for Derek Jacobi, this time as the unctuous Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Gambon as a gruff and thunderous-voiced King George V and Timothy Spall is as good as they come as the much imitated Winston Churchill. Anthony Andrews surprized as a sad-toned and poignant Stanley Baldwin but Clair Bloom was disappointing as a statuesque but no much more, Queen Mary.  Guy Pearce was more unusual casting and he was an inspired choice for the foppish rogue King Edward VIII.

The four stars are for the acting and the screenplay but when all the fuss dies down, I am left wondering why it doesn’t really add up to very much after all.

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