I ain’t no royalist, and my ignorance of English history is vast. All those kings and queens and the battle of this and that – pffft! On a scale of 0-10, then, my innate interest in The King’s Speech, a movie about the current Queen Elizabeth’s old man (King George VI) and his speech impediment, barely registers. And I doubt I’m alone in that. So how did this low budget historical drama get to be hot favourite to take off multiple Oscars and other (more credible) awards?
It’s as close to perfect as movies get – that’s how. And yet, regardless of its excellence, given that spectacle and technological wizardry are intrinsic elements in modern cinema, it’s a curiosity that a film that features neither should come to such public prominence. Indeed, there’s not even anything definitively filmic about The King’s Speech; it could work equally well as theatre! The action is all in the dialogue, and takes place mostly in a couple of rooms.
Where this movie does push the boundaries is in the dramatic fundamentals: the writing and performances. The dialogue is superb. I fancy I have a finely tuned ear and an over-sensitive imperfection meter in this area…and I could not fault a single line. Colin Firth (King George VI) and Geoffrey Rush (Lionel Logue, the king’s expat Aussie speech therapist) are simply flawless. More than this, they are their characters. These must surely be the best performances of their careers, and for actors of this quality, that’s approbation of the highest order. Rare, that two fine actors should peak in the same movie. And rarer still that the quality of the material should match their stellar performances.
I’m not going to dwell on the narrative. A story outline is readily available from Wikipedia (here), or any number of other sites.
The focus of the movie is the relationship between King George (‘Bertie’ to his inner circle) and Logue, which undergoes an enthralling transition from professional to personal.
Logue insists from the outset that the royal patient play by his rules, which include addressing each other on a first name basis, and closed-door one-to-one therapy sessions from which wife Elizabeth (the future ‘Queen Mother’, played with aplomb by Helena Bonham Carter) is excluded. This is confronting for the king, who has had no contact with the world of the ‘common man’ and is affronted by the prospect of surrendering power to one of its denizens. Further, there’s an intimacy to Logue’s therapeutic process that is alien to Bertie. He reverts to King and resorts to pulling rank when things get too uncomfortable, but royal-whisperer Logue will not be cowered and persists with quiet but unstoppable resolve.
Bit by bit he gains his patient’s trust and brings him in from the cold. You get the sense that only an Aussie like Logue (a breed that is almost extinct today) – decent to the core, blunt, with a touch of the larrikin, and a culturally ingrained informality that distances him from the English caste system and prevents him from taking it or its monarchy too seriously – could have pulled this off.
Not only is Logue able to make headway in remedying a crippling impediment when all others have failed, but through relentless encouragement and a care that is damn near indistinguishable from paternal love, he rekindles his patient’s self-belief and reconnects him with his humanity. This is profoundly affecting contrasted with flashbacks to poor Bertie’s cloistered childhood, which is marked by ridicule, criticism and cold parenting. Even more so is the textual postscript that Logue and Bertie remained friends for life.
Don’t miss this. It’s psychologically astute, gripping from the first frame to the last, highly charged dramatically and poignant. Truly exquisite cinema.
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