This post was first published by Suite101. It contains spoilers.
There is something about royalty on film – the ritual, the grandeur, the mystery – that makes for fascinating viewing, whatever your politics. The King’s Speech (2010, director Tom Hooper) creates the world of 20th century British royalty with wonderful detail, captivating and completely immersing audiences in the lives of the film’s characters for almost two hours.
While The King’s Speech is on one level about politics and tradition, it is also on another more fundamental level about a man with a problem. The Duke of York, known to his family as Bertie (played by Colin Firth) is, after the death of his father and the abdication of his older brother Edward VIII (Guy Pearce), about to be crowned King of England. Bertie suffers from a terrible stammer – a condition that has plagued him since childhood, made worse by the taunts of his brothers and a lack of sympathy from his father. In an effort to cure Bertie his wife Elizabeth – the future Queen Mother, played with subtle grace and intelligence by Helena Bonham Carter – contacts a speech therapist, an Australian named Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). Logue, after initial resistance on Bertie’s part, becomes the king’s personal speech therapist, and ultimately helps him to overcome his impediment.
The King’s Speech is a visually beautiful film. Costumes, sets and scenery convey the feeling of twentieth century England, while at the same time each scene has the detail and careful touches of a work of art. From the majestic English country estate houses to the young princesses’ rocking-horse collection, the world of the film is delicately rendered. One of the most arresting sets of the film is Lionel’s studio – a large, open space with flecked grey walls. Model aeroplanes constructed by Lionel’s sons hang from the ceiling, giving each scene filmed in this room a warm and personal feeling. The most striking outdoor moment comes as Bertie walks away from Lionel at a turning point in their relationship. The bright but hazy light of a dying English afternoon catches the two figures from behind as they part.
The relationship between Lionel, a “commoner” from “the colonies”, and Bertie, the future King of England, is the driving force of the film. It reveals the humanity beneath the pomp and splendour of royalty, and highlights the importance of friendship, on a truly equal level. In a sense The King’s Speech is a film that bridges the gap between the mysteries of Buckingham Palace and the lives of ordinary people. While there is a lot of fuss and ritual about royalty there is also great comfort to be found in hearing the voice of a strong leader in a time of crisis (such as the beginning of World War II, with which the film ends). While Bertie’s speech impediment seems a small problem in the face of a world war, it is in fact a great personal battle that, once won, gives hope to a nation. The film highlights the power of words, of speech, and the importance of courageous leaders who are willing to take risks and fight battles on behalf of their people – no matter how difficult or personal those battles may be.
The King’s Speech was released in cinemas in December 2010, and is rated ‘R’ for language.