Friday, 4 May 2012

The King's Speech [FILM REVIEW]

What's It All About Then?
Based on real events, this Oscar-winning period piece -  released in January 2011 - concerns the rise to the throne of Prince Albert, Duke of York (played by Colin Firth). Albert was always a very nervous public speaker, mainly due to his strong speech impediment. The film opens with the Duke making a speech at the closing of the British Exhibition, where Albert cannot get the speech out, the crowd falls deathly silent and the Duke leaves disheartened and ashamed. It is then that his wife, the Duchess of York (Helena Bonham-Carter), suggests that he tries to get his impediment corrected as it has been an issue since childhood. She arranges for him to see a speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), whose unorthodox technique starts to make some significant changes in Albert's life.

The film takes place during a turbulent time in British history - starting with the death of King George V, which leaves his son to become Edward VIII. However, Edward is determined to marry American divorcee, Mrs. Wallis Simpson - an act forbidden as he is the reigning monarch. As such, Edward quickly and voluntarily abdicates the throne - which had not happened in over a thousand years - and this leaves Albert as the successor to the throne.

The unwilling monarch is then faced with his biggest task yet - to make a radio broadcast announcing the commencement of World War Two to millions of listening Brits. Has Logue's course of therapy been enough to hold off Albert's speech impediment for one of the biggest public speeches in history?

So Is It Any Good?
+++ Jolly Bloody Film +++
The film is really top quality - production, dialogue and pace are all spot-on. The locations in which you see the story progress range from lavish palaces to Lionel Logue's dark and decrepit office, each displaying a different tone for the characters. This is mirrored in the dialogue and body language of the characters - each has a different way of interacting with the Duke, and this changes as the film goes on. 

The film is clearly building to the big speech, charting the changes in the Duke's life as he moves from timid man into confident King and gives that crucial speech. The way the film builds from the quite shocking initial meetings between Lionel and Albert, before offering backstory into the family relationships that play their parts in both Albert and Logue's past, provides a clear picture of the problems and motivations of the two lead characters. The development gradually pans out right until the end, allowing for a great deal of suspense and revelation before the big speech.

+++ Well Characterised +++

As mentioned above, a lot of the big draw of the film is the interplay between the Duke and the speech therapist. Although the character development with the Duke's wife, brother and other family members is still quite interesting, it's the lives of the lead two that I really got into.

Their relationship is both charming and unusual - while these two people would never interact under "normal" circumstances, their semi-professional relationship allows them to become quite close before the end. I found their beginnings were quite gripping, the therapist insisting on calling the Duke by a nickname and encouraging him to repeatedly swear as part of the treatment.

Logue's brash, Australian charisma is a stark culture shock for the Duke, emphasised by the visuals of a royal dressed in a formal suit sitting on a ruined couch. The film carries on in this way throughout - as the Duke's situation changes, he is placed in further chaos as the royal line is altered, his responsibilities change and he grows as a person.

Few films capture this single, pivotal relationship with such craft, and it is a joy to watch more than once - just to appreciate how far the Duke and Logue come through the course of the film.

--- Maybe Not For Everyone ---
O.K. - word of warning - this is a little foul-mouthed for a 12A film. If you were taking younger viewers to see a film - or easily offended older viewers - then the frequent uses of curses will probably cause upset. It's not like they use a lot of swearing in conversation, but several scenes use harsh swear words were heavy-handedly forced through the censors, meaning that a much lower certificate than may be expected was awarded.

As another negative, the film is overall slightly royalist - although not portraying the royal family as heroic saints, there's still a lot of weight and favour placed upon the challenges which the family faced, and how they triumphantly rose to the occasion. Basically though, they've been given vast estates and all the money in the country and all that is asked in return is for a rousing speech every once in a while. Not too big an ask, surely? 

It's easy to criticise when you haven't had to live that life - I know - but really there's enough comforts offered to make the challenges they face much less of a burden than everyone else. 

But hey, if you love the royal family then you may enjoy this portrayal - although it is stark and much more "human" than most versions of royal events. 

So basically the whole "royal" aspect is likely to divide opinion as well - but I found that the balance struck was not off-putting and I appreciated the perspective that it offered on fairly recent events. Bear in mind that these are real-life events - happening just over 50 years ago - and were quite controversial at the time. This is one of very few popular examinations of what went on at this troubling time in Britain -  and it is well worth a try.

A well-made and well-written film, both insightful, thoughtful and in many ways quite shocking.

There is very little to complain about here - unless you are easily offended or are a strong royalist/anti-royalist - but otherwise you'll probably enjoy this quite a lot.

If you're looking for a top-quality film that has a wide range of appeal and offers some very interesting character development - this is one to watch.

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