Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The King’s Speech

I absolutely love period piece films, especially historical dramas. One of the most fascinating decades from the last century was the 1930s. It was an intense time—The Depression, the world on the edge of war, the rise of Adolf Hitler. But it was also an age of class, style and glamour. All of this serves as a backdrop to The King’s Speech, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture at this year’s Oscars. There has been much written about this film, and it has become a darling of the movie critics.

If you haven’t seen the movie, the basic story is about the speech impairment that King George VI suffered from childhood. It’s based on a true story that has been forgotten over time but was brought to the screen by writer, David Seidler.

Seidler spent years researching this story and finally got permission from the Queen Mother to bring it to the stage and ultimately to the screen, but only after her death. Seidler’s motivation for the screenplay was due to his own speech impairment that he suffered as a child as a result of his grandparents death in a concentration camp during World War II.

Prince Albert, the Duke of York, who will be the future king of England (King George VI) is played by Colin Firth. Prince Albert has tried every notable speech therapist to overcome his debilitating stutter but to no avail. In fact, he struggles to put two words together that make any sense. His anxiety of public speaking only intensifies the condition. As a last resort, his wife Elizabeth, the Duchess of York, (Helena Bonham Carter) convinces Prince Albert to see Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush).

Lionel’s methods are unorthodox to say the least. Other therapists have treated the mechanics of speech impairment, but Lionel dives into the psychological disorder which led to Prince Albert’s stuttering. At first, Prince Albert is taken back by Lionel’s casual approach. Prince Albert resists the treatment because Lionel insists on calling Prince Albert “Bertie”, a name that is used only by his wife. This is a serious breach of protocol by a commoner.

Only after King Edward VIII’s marriage to divorcee Wallis Simpson, which results in the King’s abdicating the throne, does Prince Albert accept the responsibility of becoming the King and Emperor of the British Empire, which encompasses over 25% of the world’s population. Can the future King overcome his disabilities and lead his nation during a time of crisis as World War II nears?

Ultimately The King’s Speech is a two man show. It’s much more than a movie about speech impairment. It’s about an unlikely friendship between a future King and a commoner. More importantly, King George VI must find his confidence. Lionel is helping the King to discover his voice, not only literally but also the voice from within to lead the nation. The chemistry between Rush and Firth is electrifying. I was especially amazed at how quick-witted and funny the script was at times.

Under the steady hand of Tom Hopper, the director, The King’s Speech has an abundance of visual style, atmosphere, tone and superior art direction. It’s a visual delight. Considering that the budget was a mere $15 million, this is quite an accomplishment. Most major Hollywood movies spend more on catering.

The interior shots help to create a mood where Prince Albert feels trapped and confined, which helps to emphasize his hopelessness and despair. If there is a message in this film it is we all need help in order to find our inner voice. Prince Albert/King George VI has the help of Lionel and loyal and trusting wife, Elizabeth, the Duchess of York. Without their support, the course of history could have been dramatically different.

One of the final scenes of the film where King George VI must address the British Empire after their declaration of war on Germany is especially dramatic. He has not perfected his speech but with the help of Lionel, he manages to give a compelling and heartfelt appeal to his people.

The King’s Speech is worthy of its Academy Awards and the acclaim it has received. If you have not seen it, do yourself a favor and see it. It is available on DVD and Blu-ray. A note of caution: The film is rated R for some language.

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