The ‘King’s Speech’ stars several well-known actors. The most prominent and recognisable stars are Colin Firth (King George VI), Helena Bonham Carter (Queen Elizabeth) and Geoffrey Rush (Lionel Logue). The film is set back in the 1920’s – 1930’s and Britain is on the brink of WWII with Germany. The film takes place in London, England. ‘The King’s Speech’ is a drama, however, it has elements of very cleverly written comedy, which is refreshing for a film with such a serious and important message.
The film begins with our lead role, The Prince Albert, Duke of York and son of King George V, looking very anxious with his wife, Queen Elizabeth at his side as he prepares to speak before the 1925 Empire Exhibition at Wembley Stadium in London. It is quite apparent as soon as The Prince attempts to speak that no words will emit from his quivering lips. After what seems a painful amount of time, his stammering speech of fumbling words makes the massing crowd very uncomfortable. Albert soon realises how detrimental his condition is for his success as heir to the throne. He knows how important it is to overcome his speech impediment, for if he doesn’t he won’t be able to convey the sense of confidence and authority necessary to lead a country about to embark into another World War. He seeks the help of several therapists whose failed attempts at curing him only make matters worse and he vows to cease any further attempts at rehabilitation.
Behind the Prince’s back, the Duchess of York tracks down a Lionel Logue, an Australian speech therapist now living in London. After much persuasion she manages to convince her husband to attempt Logue’s radical treatments. Upon meeting Prince Albert, Logue insists on calling the Duke “Bertie” (a nick name only used by Albert’s close family members), in order to promote a sense of equality and rapport between the client and the therapist. He insists that Albert not smoke in his presence and places a bet with Albert for one shilling (or 5p in today’s British currency) that he can make him read without a stammer. A shilling for a bet with “His Majesty” is not only very funny because it was such a small amount of money for the Prince, but we also find out that Albert doesn’t carry money upon his person which means that Lionel lends him the shilling. He convinces Albert to read Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be” soliloquy, while listening to the overture from Mozart on headphones. It is clear that the Prince has no trouble whatsoever reading the short passage without stuttering as Logue records Albert’s reading, however, “Bertie” is convinced that he stammered throughout and feels belittled as a result. Before Albert walks out Logue hands him the recording as a souvenir. Over some time, mutual trust and respect is built between the two gentlemen and Logue has The Prince doing some pretty outlandish exercises to cure him of his stammer, such as jumping up and down whilst humming, rolling on the floor, shouting random profanity and so forth.
A significant scene in the film is when the Prince is preparing to make his first Christmas address to the country. The King is explaining to the Prince that radio has required monarchs to become skilled actors. It is quite obvious that King George V has a very bullying nature towards his son and no sensitivity or compassion with regards to his blatant dilemma. After being humiliated by his Father, that night Albert puts on Logue’s recording and is amazed to hear that he was able to recite the works of Shakespeare without stammering. As the treatment progresses, Logue delves deeper into the Prince’s personal life and the two soon develop an affinity for each other and become friends.
King George V’s health takes a turn for the worse with age and he dies in his sleep. The eldest son, Prince Edward (known as David to his family) inherits the throne as King Edward VIII. However, it soon becomes apparent that he has intense feelings for an American socialite, Wallis Simpson, setting aside his responsibilities as the newly crowned King. Albert is infuriated when Edward reveals his intent to marry Wallis once she is divorced from her second husband. Albert rightly points out that Edward cannot retain his power on the throne and marry a divorced woman. This leads to some pretty serious animosity between the two brothers, but ultimately results in the abdication of Edward’s reign as King.
Logue continues to work with Albert and assures him that he can succeed as King of Britain. Soon after being crowned the new King, the declaration of war with Germany is established in 1939. George VI is given a three-page speech to read over the radio and with only 40 minutes before going wireless around the world, calls for the aid of Logue to accompany him in Buckingham Palace.
The aspect of filmmaking that I appreciated most from this film was the overall acting. Not only were the lead roles most distinguished, all the other characters were so well casted. There were some scenes when the general public would congregate around radios to listen in on the King’s speeches and I really noticed some colourful characters. For example, the older gent filmed on the right in the brief scene in the pub where the local ‘boozers’ are thronged around the radio. He has such an old-looking face, one that you just don’t come across every day. You don’t have to be a film buff to appreciate why Colin Firth won ‘Best Actor Golden Globe Award’ for his performance. He is exceptional. He conveys so much emotion and solemnity, leaving me at times welling up in the cinema. I have heard opinions, especially from the older generation, that Colin Firth didn’t quite have the presence of King George VI, but personally I thought his acting was very believable and impacting. Helena Bonham Carter didn’t have such a prominent role in the film but still stood out as a very substantial character amongst a cast of dominant figures. I have only seen Geoffrey Rush in ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ and really enjoyed his acting in that as Captain Hector Barbossa. He brings so much personality to his character as Lionel Logue. I couldn’t help but love his light-hearted and frank attitude towards his work and life in general in this film.
Another aspect of filmmaking in ‘The King’s Speech’ that I found spellbinding was the set design. There wasn’t any point in the film that I felt that they lost continuity or attention to detail when it came to the set arrangement. What really stood out for me was the lack of decoration in Logue’s practice. It is composed of several open-planned rooms and minimal, eccentric furniture. The client’s couch is situated in an unusual vaulted room with large leaded windows at one end and roof lights making it look like some sort of studio. I really like the way the walls just seemed untouched and somewhat damaged. This unorthodox approach to Logue’s decorating style reflects his coaching style also. Overall, these matriculate elements not only give the viewer a real sense of perspective for how it was to live in Britain around WWII, but they also add real depth and texture to the film.
In summary, this is a powerful, witty and deeply moving story about one man’s struggle to find his voice. The deep friendship out of a professional relationship that blossoms between two men who would otherwise never have socially interacted, provides 118 minutes of laughter and tears, but also education and moral fibre. A must see!