Wednesday, 19 January 2011

FILM REVIEW: The King's Speech

I'm feeling slightly gutted now I didn't get to watch The King's Speech at the LIFF last year, because it's meant I've had to wait an extra three months to see this brilliant film. And brilliant it is - how could they make a whole film out of a man overcoming his stammer? How could they make it interesting? I was engrossed the whole way through: don't be put off by the unadventurous sounding plot, come and be surprised and be incredibly moved.

Having struggled with his speech all his life, Prince Albert (or Bertie, as we fondly get to know him) has tried a range of therapists to try and conquer his impediment so he can make public announcements and addresses with ease. None of them work. So his wife finds someone different, someone a little unorthodox to help - a man called Lionel Logue, and when his father King George V dies and his brother messily abdicates, Bertie suddenly finds himself in the most pivotal position of all: to speak to the nation as ruling monarch, and not only that, but to allay their fears about the oncoming war.

Of course there's more to it than that: it's about the relationships the characters have, not just with one another, but with their pasts, with their emotions, with their voices. It's paced beautifully, with there being more from Michael Gambon (George V) and Guy Pearce (Edward VII) than I had realised, and this is very much needed as their ignorant and harmful treating of Bertie to try and 'force' the stammer out of him has only worsened the problem, and sapped his self-confidence.

Colin Firth is just astonishing - all the way through I was thinking what a master he is, what a genius of his field: not only does he have to play a real-life historical figure - a King no less (I often wondered during the film what the Queen would make watching this, her feet up on the sofa at Buckingham Palace watching a recreation of her childhood events) but to affect a stammer so painstakingly authentic is just bloody good. The desperation, clutching for words - the tongue clacking and the throat reflexing - it's perfection, and it doesn't even cross your mind that this is acting. He's lovable (telling his daughters a bedtime story), cantankerous (when he spars with Lionel), heartbreaking (the row with his brother, when he cries overwhelmed at being King), amusing ("fuck, fuck, fuckity fuck balls!") and brave (his war time speech on the wireless). He's absolutely the most wonderful character, and Firth plays him with such warmth, pathos and stoic vulnerability that it's impossible not to ride this journey with him on the tails of his jacket - every emotion is filtered through the viewer.

But as Firth is unquestionably good, I must say Geoffrey Rush is if not as good, better. His no nonsense, no fawning attitude towards treating the future King of England is refreshingly entertaining, and its his relationship with Bertie that is at the film's core. Their banter provides some of the funniest moments of the film, and this is often proceeded by a moment of true, genuine friendship between the two - as Lionel learns more about Bertie, so he has a better chance of 'curing' him of his stammer. His gentle but firm manner fuels the King's galling temper and just like proper, ordinary old men they niggle and fight with one another, and it's the wives who have to tell them to get off their high horses and go and apologise to one another. This has to be one the greatest friendships between characters I have ever seen on a cinema screen, and the last few moments where King George VI is delivering his speech and Lionel watches on - part friend, part mentor, part family - it's like a balloon expanding inside your chest. I cried a LOT during this film, I just adored the connection between these two, and the inspiration and the poignancy that pours out.

It's a very elegant film to watch as well, perhaps influenced by its subject matter. I loved the sweeping, soupy mists of London, the long shots of Buckingham Palace, the focus on art and the tunes of Beethoven in the background. It felt very British, and gave me a strange sense of pride watching it. It may get a little overshadowed at the Oscars, but it's going to do extraordinarily well at the BAFTAS next month. And I don't know how good Christian Bale is in The Fighter but it will be a travesty if Geoffrey Rush is not recognised for his acting credentials here, simply superb.

I have to push with this film because people are going to think it stiff and dull: The King's Speech is the absolute opposite of all of that assumption. It's touching, heartfelt, captivating and very, very funny and the characters will stay with you a long time (and bring sudden smiles to your face). I cannot recommend this film enough - with 127 Hours it's made the start of 2011 - and January in general - much cheerier.

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