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May 2011

The King's Speech

cast: Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, Geoffrey Rush, Guy Pearce, and Michael Gambon

director: Tom Hooper

118 minutes (12) 2010
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Momentum DVD Region 2
[released 9 May]

RATING: 9/10
review by Matthew S. Dent

The King's Speech

There's something rather daunting about reviewing a film as near-universally popular as The King's Speech. On the one hand, if I write that I love it, then I'll have sold out to the fawning hordes of monarchist Britain. On the other hand, if I hate it, then I'm a grumpy republican with no sense of fun. Well, I liked it. Rather a lot. So, take that republicanism! In actual fact, this isn't at all a visual referendum on the monarchy. Rather, it's a demonstration of how powerful storytelling and good writing can be combined to create something incredibly engaging and quite moving.

The film tells the story of Bertie, Duke of York (ably played by Colin Firth), on his journey to conquer his stammer, become King George VI, and lead Britain into World War II. I'm tempted to close that sentence with - all in time for afternoon tea - but I won't. The main thrust of the plot is, naturally, Bertie's stammer. The poor prince has such trouble getting his words out that his wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) seeks out an Australian speech therapist, Lionel (Geoffrey Rush), to cure the problem. Despite initial hostility, Bertie grows to trust Lionel and a friendship grows between them transcending social class.

Now, this film isn't perfect, no matter how profusely people praise it. For one thing, it isn't entirely accurate in a historical sense. For another thing, it neglects to mention the real Bertie's anti-semitic tendencies, or Churchill's preference for keeping Edward VIII on the throne. But those sacrifices are made in the name of the story - and this is a film, not a history lesson and not a piece of propaganda. The acting is excellent. Firth's portrayal of a man who never wanted or expected to be king feels genuine and heartfelt. He has the air of a man facing up to a challenge in the name of something truly greater than him. At the climax of the film, he manages to make an austere, stiff speech sound heavy with emotion and meaning.

Rush also demonstrates his pedigree. The chemistry between King and commoner is electric and humorous, and the humour genuine. Whether the real Lionel and George VI interacted like this, I don't know. But this representation does exactly what it should do; it entertains. The story, apparently, was kept under wraps until after the death of the Queen Mother, so desperate was she to avoid the embarrassment of the king's speech impediment becoming public. In that light, you'd hope she'd be proud of the product that director Tom Hooper has crafted. Particularly as the treatment she herself receives from Bonham Carter is respectful and inspiring.

Overall, it's hard to argue with the general tone of the praise the film has received. Over-hyped? Perhaps, but these days, any film which is actually any good seems to suffer such over-the-top lauding. To mark it down on that basis feels spiteful and petty. It was a fascinating, at times moving, look at a moment in British history, and though it wasn't perfect, it was very good.



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