Sunday, December 26, 2010

The King's Speech

Forget the Ashes, this is the history making Australia vs. England match you need to be watching come Boxing Day. The showdown is between the son of an Aussie brewer and Duke of York. Sounds like an unfair fight? Well, therein lies the magic of The King’s Speech.  

Tom Hooper’s pitch-perfect film is not your usual Royal fare: pomp, pretension and a parade of costumery. Instead he concentrates on this very unlikely friendship, between ebullient speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) and the stiff-upper-lip stutterer Prince Albert, or Bertie (Colin Firth) as his wife (Helena Bonham Carter) and family call him. That Logue insists on using the personal moniker should give you some clue into the class and cultural power play this film navigates, and it is one further complicated by the scandalous twist of fate which sees Bertie’s forced to assume the throne in 1936 after his brother King Edward (Guy Pearce) abdicates in order to marry an American divorcee Wallis Simpson (Eve Best).  

It is truly bizarre to think that Logue, an amateur actor from Perth, found himself in the middle of one of the 20th Century’s watershed political fracas. But in privileging his relationship with Prince Albert above the arguably more saucy account of King Edward VIII and Mrs. Simpson, Hooper and screenwriter David Seidler (a childhood stammerer) have themselves created an important historical document. In fact it seems Hooper has a golden touch when it comes to brining history to the screen: he is best known for the acclaimed mini series John Adams, as well as pegging Helen Mirren as Elizabeth I before she was The Queen. Though perhaps The King’s Speech finds more common ground with Hooper’s last film, The Damned United, a must-see account of infamous football manager Brian Clough’s rocky friendship with his assistant manager Peter Taylor. In Hooper’s hands, history really does come intricately and miraculously alive.  

But wait, before you set your brains to doze off in history class, take note: The King’s Speech also happens to be one of the most masterful, endearing and supremely joyful films of the year.  

Indeed critics are falling all over themselves to shower this film in superlatives, and evidently this review will be no different. For this is a production that hits every beat with staggering precision; from the period production design, cinematographer Danny Cohen’s subtly off-centre framing and Alexandre Desplat’s tell-tale, luminous score, through to Seidler’s dryly funny script and of course the Oscar bait performances. Firth nails a stammerer’s guttural clicks and frustrated, pained expression perfectly, while Rush tempers his goofy exuberance with an affecting humanity. Similarly, Bonham Carter reigns in her wild-eyed zany, instead tapping into her more restrained Merchant Ivory days of old, and Pierce subtly steals his scenes as the fantastically effete and enamoured King Edward. In fact the only off note in this remarkable ensemble is Timothy Spall, who could have dialled his caricature of Winston Churchill down a few decibels.  

To return to the microphone, the genius, and the enormous heart of The King’s Speech emanates from the demands of this alien device as well as the title’s multiple meanings. For Bertie and Logue belonged to the new era of the wireless, a technology not yet advanced enough to enable editing, so a King’s speech must be broadcast live. This makes for quite a clammy-handed climax, as Logue and Bertie’s friendship culminates in a heart-wrenching address on 3 September 1939, the day Great Britain declared war on Germany. This scene, emblematic of the rest of the film, is handled with refreshing intelligence, wit and a striking artistry. And as these are such precious qualities in cinema, they are surely enough to warrant setting warring cricket fidelities aside to celebrate this beautifully crafted and delightfully peculiar piece of Anglo-Australian history?  

Come on Poms, let’s shake on it.

Published on TheVine
Australian release date: 26 December 2010


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