Friday, 14 January 2011

The King's Speech

Despite widespread praise for The King’s Speech, i approached with caution. It’s a drama about the British royal family (yawn) and concerns a character (a king, no less) overcoming a terrible affliction. Handled well it could be interminably dull and clichéd. Handled badly, it might be difficult to stay awake until the final credits.

I needn’t have worried. It’s a magnificent film. Utterly absorbing, filled to the brim with acting talent, wonderfully scripted and far funnier than it has any right to be. Focusing on King George VI’s ascent to the throne it has a dash of scandal, a generous helping of World War II and some inspired profanity. But more than anything else it’s a love story – albeit an untraditional one.

The Duke of York (Bertie to his friends, George VI in later life, Colin Firth to us) suffers from a terrible stammer. Having visited speech therapist after speech therapist and endured some – frankly preposterous – ‘remedies’ he is ready to resign himself to a life of stuttering. But as public speaking becomes an increasingly important part of his life, his wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) uncovers the lugubrious Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), a maverick Australian who’s convinced his unconventional methods can end Bertie’s troubles.

The love story in question is not that of Bertie and Elizabeth (although Bonham-Carter does a wonderful job of displaying her character’s adoration), but that of the Duke and his therapist. Both Firth and Rush give career-best performances – Firth’s misanthropic and starchy Bertie thawing in front of our eyes whilst Rush steals all the best lines and lights up the screen with his rumpled charm and twinkling eyes.

The relationship between the two leading men is utterly engaging. There is obvious chemistry between them and their dialogue is wittily and snappily scripted –Bertie’s stammer is far less pronounced when he’s angry! Gradually Lionel’s refusal to stand on ceremony and his stubbornness overcome his regal patient and the two become friends. This, it seems, has been the key all along. Once trust has been established the two work attempt to get to the bottom of the cause of Bertie’s affliction – and not a moment too soon.

Around the central characters whirl a plethora of British thespians bringing life to the historical figures central to the story. Michael Gambon and Derek Jacobi are excellent as George V and the Archbishop of Canterbury respectively. Yet it’s Timothy Spall who threatens to steal the limelight in a wonderful portrayal of Winston Churchill.

The King’s Speech is a fantastic film which finds a fine balance between characterisation and historical accuracy. As someone with little time or knowledge of the monarchy i was informed and educated by the story of Edward’s scandalous abdication from the throne as Britain stumbled inexorably towards war. But more importantly, i was seduced by a truly heartwarming tale of friendship and love played out by two actors at the top of their game.

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