Sunday, 9 January 2011
The King's Speech
The film opens with the then Prince’s disastrous speech at the close of the 1926 Empire Exhibition but quickly jumps forward eight years to 1934 and a dingy consulting room in Harley Street with the Duchess of York visiting a speech therapist in order to help her husband, under the pseudonym if Mrs Johnson. When advised that her husband ought to find a new job, ‘Mrs J’ tells him that this wasn’t an option and the therapist comes back with a quip about the job being related to indentured servitude. Mrs J’s response is heart-felt agreement.
We then get to see the Duke make a start on overcoming the impediment, reluctantly at first and certainly not without many setbacks as the situation evolves; at first the Prince is going through the therapy in order to better fulfil his duties as a royal but as his older brother, the Heir, becomes increasingly infatuated with his married American, it becomes increasingly likely that Bertie will become the King, a thought that (quite rightly!) terrifies him.
We have the death of George V and the succession of Edward VIII and some very unbecoming behaviour of the not-yet crowned King and his paramour Mrs Simpson (honest, it’s not that she was American, just that she was a twice divorced American) and we have Edward VIII signing the abdication papers (1936) and the coronation of Bertie as George VI and the unmasking of his speech therapist as an apparent charlatan – we’ll give Archbishop Lang the benefit of the doubt and that he really did care that the King had been conned and after an emotional confrontation the King and the speech therapist declare peace. The newsreel of the coronation was followed by a piece on a Nazi rally – a nasty comparison between the leaders of the looming confrontation.
The final section is the King’s speech of the title – the speech that the King gave to the Nation and the Empire warning of the potential horrors to follow on the day war was declared, which while not necessarily the smoothest speech ever, managed to capture the mood of the nation with montage images of those he had been involved with including his brother in exile.
Playing a person with a stammer must be an actor’s worst nightmare but Colin Firth was up to the task and Helena Bonham-Carter appeared to manage to capture the spirit of his wife, Queen Elizabeth and there were plenty of emotionally affecting scenes, one of the more surprising when his daughters greeted him with curtsies just after he had acceded to the kingship. However, there were elements of humour as well – the King and Queen accidently meeting Mrs Logue and her husband’s reluctance to let the King meet her.
The film did not really deal with the politics of the situation, the abdication crisis being basically a few moments and the lead up to war being largely ignored too, but these were not the foci of the film. The focus of the film was on the relation between ‘Mr Johnson’ and Logue and while I guess most of this would have been made up, it certainly felt like it captured the nature of the nature of the relationship.
As a side point, the fact that the Harry Potter franchise is coming to an end has released some senior actors for a number of roles in this; Michael Gambon was George V and Timothy Spall played a passable Winston Churchill and there’s Helena Bonham-Carter herself, as Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon.