This post may contain spoilers and large images that may compromise slower internet connections. Read at your own discretion.
I like watching biopics. Due to being based on actual events, there is little to spoil. As far as the significance of studying history goes, the events themselves never change. However, the way in which their permanence is received when re-hashing into film, screenplay, and other media calls for much creativity. That way, the experience of re-visiting pockets of time passed can be refreshing. Tom Hooper‘s interpretation of David Seidler’s The King’s Speech is a combination of audio and visual brilliance, with special emphasis on the former.
After an embarrassing attempt at public speaking during the closing ceremony of the British Empire Exhibition — a incident documented via radio broadcast for all the world to hear — Prince Albert, Duke of York (played by Colin Firth) seeks professional help in order to cure his stammering. During a session at their Piccadilly home, he gives into one vice and a single attempt at employing Demosthenes’ Stones before storming off, leaving his watchful wife Elizabeth, Duchess of York (played magnificently by Helena Bonham Carter) to gently end the session. Prince Albert haltingly vocalises his surrender to his impediment, but all the while, Elizabeth has a different agenda.
Elizabeth visits Harley Street, an address she finds in the classifieds, for an appointment with a speech specialist named Lionel Logue (played by Geoffrey Rush). Under the guise of the name “Mrs. Johnson”, his reputation of antipodean methods and his almost dismissive approach of their interview contrasts the treatment to which she is accustomed. When she reveals her true identity, Logue awkwardly adjusts his conduct. The two agree to an arrangement.
Shortly before leaving for a dinner, Prince Albert tells his two daughters, Margaret (played by Ramona Marquez) and the current Queen Elizabeth (played by Freya Wilson), a bedtime story of a prince who turns into a penguin and is banished to the South Pole by a wicked witch. Having the undivided attention of his little girls, he plods through his stammers. The anamorphic curse is especially unfortunate for the prince in the story, because he loves to embrace his daughters. His fatherly love gives him the determination to swim back to their home where his daughters give him a kiss that turns him into a short-tailed albatross with a wingspan wide enough to envelope the two girls. After young Elizabeth and Margaret are seen off to bed, Elizabeth talks to Prince Albert about a chance at a similar transformation.
In spite of holding the bearing, training, and discipline fit for a king, Prince Albert accepts playing the second fiddle. His elder brother, Prince Edward, Duke of Windsor (played by Guy Pearce), is next in line to the throne. While he has no plaguing physical conditions, unlike two of his younger brothers, Prince Edward proves himself to be unfit for such a heavy responsibility. His serial associations with older, married women makes him subject of controversy and a source of constant frustration to his parents, King George V (played by Michael Gambon) and Queen Mary (played by Claire Bloom). His involvement with and later marriage to twice-divorced American socialite and later Duchess of Windsor, Wallis Simpson (played by Eve Best), later triggers a crisis that scrutinises his very capacity as king.
The first encounter of Prince Albert and Lionel is filled with several breaches of royal etiquette. However, Lionel manages to coerce the Prince into recording his own voice and keeping the recording before he walks out mid-session. When he plays the record at home after a particularly trying day visiting his father, he listens to his own unwavering voice. Begrudging yet convinced, he finds himself back on the couch of Lionel’s consultation room.
From the couch and the single-seat chair in which Prince Albert divulges his natural left-handedness, his knock-knees, and traumatic childhood, the reluctant and stammering Prince finds himself assuming the throne as King George VI after his brother abdicates. The two men do not have a smooth professional relationship, and Lionel often bears the brunt of George VI’s frequent temperamental outbursts. But with each harangue comes a greater mutual dependency and rewards them both with a friend in each other. When George VI has to deliver his first war-time speech, words he is worthy of speaking but finds much difficulty in saying, Lionel would be the vessel who coaxes the words out of him.
“The King’s Speech” is a visually pleasing. It is a beautiful play of lens technique and angles, cinematographically filtered by Danny Cohen with contrasts of muted and bright colours. However, what is more intriguing is the way the shots are set up. The cast double as props, creating breath-taking scenes that may very well be renowned works of art.
The set of “The King’s Speech” shows an incredible amount of attention paid to scenic detail. In context to the contrasts of the wealthy and Depression-afflicted United Kingdom, the textures of many of the interior spaces used are very telling of the economic situations of the two central characters. Lionel Logue’s consultation room is almost hyperbolically rich with peeling paint and bears evidence of lack of maintenance. His house is a bright array of mismatch. On the other hand, the King George VI’s reality depicts the affluent lifestyle granted unto him by his bloodline, his Princely home and later palace decorated with unique paint colours combined with subtle yet intricate wall and ceiling mouldings. As Lionel finds a good job in assisting the king, the appearance of his home follows suit.
While researching for tidbits about the production process of the film, I learned something interesting about the shooting location used for Lionel’s consultation room. The London building located in 33 Portland Place has also made appearances in the music video of Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” — and a gay pornographic film entitled “Snookered” (SFW). The building has enjoyed sex, drugs, and rock and roll, topped with the austere presence of history re-made.
I look forward to all the unusual referrals and search queries that will show up on my tracker.
Even with its many virtues, the film contains a number of historical errors. A typographical gaffe is identified when the folks over at Typophile point out that one of the fonts used was not only incorrectly attributed, but is several decades ahead of its time. However, anything in the film that indicates being type-written is in its correct historical place.
I ended up watching “The King’s Speech” twice in the cinemas. It’s that good.
In terms of physical resemblance of the cast to their characters, I am impressed by how much Claire Bloom and Eve Best looked like Queen Mary and Wallis Simpson, respectively. A close second would probably be Guy Pearce, who, in some angles (and probably a little bit of squinting) shares similar physical traits to King George V’s and Queen Mary’s children. Colin Firth looks nothing like the reluctant King, but his acting more than makes up for that. He is flawless. I cannot imagine anyone else more suitable for the role.
I found myself feeling an attraction towards Firth that has only happened once before during his portrayal of George Falconer in “A Single Man”. Prior to those two performances, I found it difficult to appreciate him in spite of being completely aware of his talent as an actor. His more prim and proper performance as Mr. Darcy in the film adaptation of Helen Fielding’s “Bridget Jones’s Diary” and his role as the aristocrat Lord Henry Wotton in “Dorian Gray” left little of an impression on me. The refined and dapper roles seem to veer very little from how Firth carries himself in real life. Both George Falconer and King George VI are incomparable other than for their elegance in spite of dealing with their respective debilitating conditions, and seeing Firth play both is a refreshing break from his usual choice of role.
For the other central character, it is beyond any reasonable doubt that Geoffrey Rush enjoyed his role as Lionel Logue. Logue, whose experience with elocution and speech therapy surpasses titles or wall-mounted credentials, is gently and humourously tackled by Rush. His on-screen chemistry with Firth is extraordinary.
Helena Bonham Carter’s performance as Elizabeth, Duchess of York and later Queen Elizabeth, is also worth noting. Her previous work have required her to take on characters who are, for the most part, unusual. Nutty, even. Seeing Bonham Carter as the spouse of King George VI is a royal breath of fresh air. Her performance paints a gentle picture of a Queen who is anything but a submissive mute. With far less make-up and distinguishing features, she provides an interesting contrast to a Death Eater or a scarlet-haired queen with an oversized head.
I teared up thrice in the film. The first is when Prince Albert discusses his traumatising childhood with Logue. The second instance is when the daughters of the reluctant King-to-be greet their father with an awkward curtsy instead of the usual embrace which aligns so beautifully with the bedtime story of earlier in the film. The third occurred when the King-to-be cries in the middle of a pile of state papers and other royal documents. However, it is the pivotal conversation between Prince Albert and Lionel that made me clasp my hand over my mouth. In particular, my left hand.
I am no stranger to sinistrophobia, seeing as I live in a country where there are regions that place heavy religious and cultural bearings on handedness. Within my family, my left-handedness was thankfully fostered instead of forcibly changed. I have embraced convenience in manual drafting classes in university, and a great sense of vigilance in social situations. As per custom, I communicate and carry daily transactions with my right hand, because I have been raised that way. I also have right-handed dexterity of some activities like using a computer mouse, knitting, and operating my mobile phone, thus having no qualms with any of them. But, I still do a majority of things with my left hand.
Lest the micro-managing type get trigger-happy over what is written in the last couple paragraphs, allow me to note that I place no blame on any of the characters in those encounters. I also know that not every unnaturally right-handed individual is not condemned to living with dyslexia or a stammer. But that particular scene in “The King’s Speech” left me ruminating long after the ending credits rolled. When the right time comes, I will compose a more articulate post on the topic.
“The King’s Speech” is stellar. It is a work of art and embodies the characteristics of what makes a good film. All of the nominations it has received is well-warranted, and I believe that if they fall short on any of them, it would be an undeserved fate.