Wednesday, January 5, 2011

New Release Review: The King's Speech (Tom Hooper, 2010)

Tom Hooper's The King's Speech is a predictable but touching period drama with a pair of exceptional performances from Colin Firth (Oscar nominee for A Single Man in 2009) and Geoffrey Rush (Oscar winner in 1996 for Shine). Winner of the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival People's Choice Award and set to be a serious Oscar contender in all of the acting categories, The King's Speech is rousing entertainment that will leave you in a state of joy and uplift as you exit the cinema.

The film opens with the son of King George V, The Duke of York (Colin Firth) preparing to speak before the 1925 Empire Exhibition at Wembley Stadium, with his wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham-Carter) at his side for support. His unfortunate stammering impediment arouses visible frustration on the face of Albert, whose impromptu pauses between every word and broken speech also unsettles the thousands in the crowd. His stammer is the source of low self-esteem and embarrassment even to the extent of hesitating when asked by his daughters to read them a bedtime story. His wife Elizabeth, whose love for Albert is beautifully apparent throughout the film, has tried to find him a therapist to help with his speech, but all have been unsuccessful. By chance she stumbles across Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), an Australian living in London. After finding out that his new patient is the Duke of York he agrees to take up the challenge, but only if Albert and Elizabeth agree to complete the lessons in Logue's personal studio, and for him and Albert to acknowledge each other on first name basis and as equals. Logue, whose methods are eccentric but have proven successful, works Albert through a variety of muscle and jaw relaxation techniques while also probing into his psychological state.

Throughout the film we are revealed to several developmental issues with Albert from his childhood, notably his requirement to write with his right hand despite being naturally left handed, which as Lougue reveals is a common contributor to speech impediments. While Hooper's film tends to only briefly examine significant moments of conflict within the monarchy through a series of key episodes and delves only into this brief period of his life, we learn all we need to know about Albert through these conversations with Lionel, who functions not only as a speech therapist but also a psychiatrist. Albert discusses his pending dread of eventually becoming King and raises his qualms about his irresponsible brother. Lionel delves into his relationship with his brother and his father to try and establish when and why his stammer started and why he has never been able to lose it, namely his father's impatient insistence to simply overcome it and his brothers' insincere taunting. Albert's father King George V (Michael Gambon) passes away after years of ill health, and he is succeeded by his oldest son David (Guy Pierce) who inherits the throne as King Edward VIII. But it is David's disinterest in his duties and his scandalous relationship with American divorcee Wallis Simpson that ultimately leads to Albert's inheritance of the throne as King George VI. Upon the 1939 declaration of war with Germany, Albert is given a three page speech to broadcast to the Nation over the radio. With just forty minutes before the broadcast, he summons Logue to Buckingham Palace to assist him with his final preparation and to silently stand with him and coach him through the entirety of the speech. Albert is overcome with nerves but he runs through all of the techniques that Logue had taught him, and finally makes his way through all the adjoining ceremonial rooms of the Palace to the small broadcast room where he delivers his important address.

There are some really fantastic sequences, and every single exchange between Albert and Logue is full of memorable dialogue. Logue's amusing disregard for Albert's royalty makes for some brilliant laughs, and both men really have a great sense of humor. The impeccable chemistry between the two men really drives the film. In most films starring Geoffrey Rush, he steals the show, but the heart of The King's Speech belongs to Firth, who is scarily good here. After missing out on the Oscar for A Single Man last year, Firth is certainly due for the recognition he deserves. Helena Bonham-Carter didn't really have a lot to do as Elizabeth, but provided great support and genuine encouragement. Guy Pierce, Derek Jacobi and Timothy Spall also feature in supporting roles. 

Most of the sequences were shot in dimly lit boardrooms or studios, making it a somewhat unappealing film visually. For a period piece, however, it was given quite a modern look and the characters were often framed in interesting ways. Whenever Albert is speaking, the camera really invades his space and gives us an intense close-up, as he struggles with his words. Often it was raining and foggy, and as dreary as the Archbishop's dribbling. The most beautiful captured sequence is actually in full daylight when Albert and Lionel walk through the park bickering about Albert's likely succession of the throne and the ineptitude of his brother. All the sets are beautifully constructed, especially Logue's office, the party at Balmoral Castle, and the interior of Buckingham Palace. Alexandre Desplat's work is also incredible, and he should feature amongst the nominees for his beautiful score.

Rather than choose to examine the entirety of the man's life, say like Walk the Line (2005) attempted, it focuses on a very specific historical period; the current rule and suffering health of King George V, his brother, the unsuitable and controversial heir, and Albert's necessary leadership at the dawn of Hitler's rise to power and the imminence of WWII. It examines the period where his stammer really becomes a very serious problem, both personally and professionally. Albert is no doubt equipped with the professionalism and the leadership qualities to be the voice of the nation that his role requires, he just lacks the ability to project that voice. This is a theme that the film really tackles well, the ability to assume leadership solely through your ability to speak publicly. In a great sequence when Albert and his family are watching Hitler address the German nation, one of his daughters asks: "What's he saying?" and Albert responds by saying: "I don't know, but he seems to be saying it rather well." There is a level of respect for Hitler in Albert's eyes, not because of his diabolical governing, but because of his ability to project.

The final sequence may just cause you to well up. Albert has worked so hard to overcome his affliction, but as he walks toward the broadcast room he is absolutely terrified of the implications of failure. But he chooses to persevere nonetheless, and it is truly inspiring. It is the 'feel-good' film of the year that also stands as one of the most well-made and certainly best-performed features of 2010.

My Rating: 4 Stars


  1. Very nice review! Beautiful movie

  2. Thank you Chelsea. It's a lovely film. Colin Firth's superb performance was the highlight!