Movie Review: The King's Speech
Brilliantly made Royalist drama. Britain still burns
It’s testament to what a culturally fragmented place Britain is in 2011 that a film as excessively royalist as The King’s Speech can exist, and be lauded, within the same climate as a member of the real Royal Family being jabbed in the chest with a stick.
To young Britain – those who have little interest in (and even less respect for) the people who occupy the throne – the country is a place of fear and anger. To many of the politically cardiganed that will flock to see director Tom Hooper’s new film in their droves, Britain is as cozy as a cuppa and an ITV drama. Even before analysing its content, I’d pump for saying the very fact The King’s Speech is being released this weekend seems contrary to at least a growing proportion of the country. But then the film isn’t the only Royal drama taking place this year you could level that accusation at…
Culturally relevant or not, that’s not to say this isn’t an excellent piece of cinema. Set in the 1920’s and 30’s – and even without having lived in that era I’d hazard a guess that it realises those times excellently – Hooper’s film is one of those beautifully nuanced period movies only Britain does and could make. It tells the story of stammering King George VI (Colin Firth), who enters into a bromance of sorts with speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). Much like Hooper’s Damned United and 2006 TV movie Longford, the movie excels at rooting out the universal human interest from a subject matter the audience may not be initially interested in. In this case it’s the King’s fear of public speaking, never better articulated than in the opening scene: Firth clad in top hat and draped in black, looking like he’s witnessed his own death. The actor plays the part of labored King superbly throughout, and his is an ailment you’re sympathetic to, whether you’re Royalist or not.
The psychoanalysis suggested of the Royals – a unit rarely known for their emotional exploration – is fascinating too, as is the comment on the Monarch’s changing role with the onset of modernity. As Hitler is igniting German passions on the brink of war, George knows he must speak to his people with clarity and poise too, and it’s the tensions these realisations pose that are the most interesting thing about the film. Elsewhere, much of the King’s story could be viewed as Firth porn (and lord knows there’s an audience for that) and the briskness of the players and the floridness of the sets will hold appeal to anyone who enjoyed the recent scheduling of Downton Abbey. There’s a gentle sort of enjoyment to be had from such drama, and many, many will duly oblige. Yet while Hooper’s film is unquestionably an impressive work and a credit to British filmmaking, to these eyes, celebrating The King’s Speech in this era as anything more than that seems a bit like striding into a warzone blindfolded, with your fingers in your ears, humming.