The King's Speech [Blu-Ray]
Director : Tom Hooper
Screenplay : David Seidler
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2010
Stars : Colin Firth (King George VI), Geoffrey Rush (Lionel Logue), Helena Bonham Carter (Queen Elizabeth), Guy Pearce (King Edward VIII), Jennifer Ehle (Myrtle Logue), Eve Best (Wallis Simpson), Freya Wilson (Princess Elizabeth), Ramona Marquez (Princess Margaret), Claire Bloom (Queen Mary), Derek Jacobi (Archbishop Cosmo Lang), Michael Gambon (King George V), Timothy Spall (Winston Churchill) and Anthony Andrews (Stanley Baldwin)
There are a couple of ways to look at The King’s Speech. From the most cynical vantage point, we can label this British-Australian-American coproduction as pure awards bait, another in a long line of carefully calculated, Weinstein-stamped period pieces; it hits all the right notes of Anglophilic period design and opposites-attract movie buddy sentiment, thus appealing to both snobby art film crowds and mainstreamers who like a few hankies to go with their history lessons. On the more generous end, one could describe it as both a moving depiction of an unlikely friendship and a rather shrewd interrogation of the humanity (and lack thereof) behind the façade of British royalty, not to mention a fascinating examination of communication and the demands of modern media.
For me, the film sits somewhere in the middle, riding a line between the accusations of slightness and sentimentality slung by its harshest detractors and the glowing platitudes that flow so freely from its strongest admirers. You can almost determine your response to the film by whether you are amused by or loathe the rhetorical playfulness of the word “speech” in the film’s title, which suggests both the film’s climactic moment when the titular king must summon all his courage and stamina to deliver a rousing speech to the British populace on the eve of World War II and said royal’s difficulty in speaking due to a lifelong stammer.
The king in question, played with great depth and dexterity by Colin Firth, is Albert Frederick Arthur George, who became King George VI in 1936 after his older brother abdicated the throne after less than a year in order to marry a twice-divorced American socialite. Known as “Bertie” to his friends and family and “The Duke of York” to the rest of England before he reluctantly ascended the throne, King George was never really sovereign material, having spent most of his life in the shadow of both his older brother Edward (a fantastically ribald Guy Pearce) and his gruff father, King George V (Michael Gambon). He was also inflicted with a stammer that made it difficult for him to speak, especially under pressure and in front of audiences, which the nation learned after his disastrous and embarrassing closing address at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1925.
It is here that the film begins, introducing us to George and his loving and devoted wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), who encourages him to see various doctors and speech therapists, one of whom persuades him to smoke (in order to relax his throat) and try to speak with a mouthful of marbles, an exercise that very nearly chokes him. Already a bit of a hothead with little patience for nonsense, George refuses to see anyone else until Elizabeth brings him to see Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), an unorthodox speech expert who hails from Australia and treats George like any other patient, even going so far as calling him “Bertie” and insist that they get down to the psychological brass tacks behind his speech impediment. Thus is born an unlikely friendship that goes through all the requisite ups and down before climaxing with George before a radio microphone addressing the nation while Lionel stands before him as both coach and cheerleader, therapist and friend.
Detractors of The King’s Speech will rightly point out that the screenplay by David Seidler (the majority of whose work over the past three decades has been in television), while sticking fairly close to the historical facts, feels very much like a processed product that rarely if ever strays from the buddy formula, even if it is dressed in early 20th-century regal drag. The detractors will also likely harp on the manner in which the film simplifies history and reduces long-standing class distinctions and the vexed role of British royalty in the modern world to a chummy push-and-pull between a reluctant sovereign and an even more unlikely speech therapist who transcend social and political norms in equalizing their personal power dynamic. They are, in every way, polar opposites, especially in terms of George’s introversion and Lionel’s flamboyance. While George just wants to be left alone, Lionel is a failed actor who loves reciting Shakespeare and turning even the most mundane moments into performance. The casting here is quite canny, as Colin Firth’s bland smoothness and penchant for blending into the background contrasts nicely with Geoffery Rush’s craggy character lines and hammy love of chewing scenery.
Yet, it is all of these things that make the film work as well as it does. It is designed to be a feel-good history lesson, one that reminds us in no uncertain terms that royals are people too, while not dismissing the wealth of privilege they call home. There is anger and bitterness and envy behind those palace doors, but also love and kindness and even empathy. You know that the filmmakers want you to luxuriate in the set design, but not entirely at the expense of giving three-dimensional dramatization to the interpersonal conflict. Tom Hooper, a veteran television director best known for the celebrated HBO mini-series John Adams (2009), manages the characters well and finds interesting ways to enmesh them in their various environments, all of which seem to be rather visually extreme for a story that could easy fit within the confines of a one-set stageplay. The enormity of Lionel’s shabby-chic office is like a parody of all the palaces in which George performs his royal duties, and if we grow to love the characters, it is because we feel that they transcend the social roles they have been accorded. It is hard not to feel a swell in your chest as the film moves to its climactic moments, not so much because of the rhetorical power of George’s words into the microphone, but because it finds the human element in a moment of great national turmoil. History tends to fade into the background at times in The King’s Speech, but that is yet another criticism that can be flipped around into a compliment: It doesn’t let the big picture crush the human connection.
|The King’s Speech Blu-Ray|
|Distributor||Anchor Bay Entertainment|
|Release Date||April 19, 2011|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|Presented in full 1080p high-definition, The King’s Speech looks as gorgeous on Blu-Ray as I remember it looking in the theater. While I feel that many of the film’s merits have been overstated, there is no doubt that it is a beautifully shot film, with Danny Cohen’s cinematography moving effortlessly between London smog that is so thick car headlights can barely break through it, to the vast interiors of both regal palaces and Lionel’s oddball office. The colors are generally muted throughout, adding to the sense of historical veracity, and the transfer does a lovely job of rendering fine detail despite the generally (and intentionally) “soft” look of the film. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround soundtrack is also top-notch, clearly presenting the dialogue and also giving Alexandre Desplat’s orchestral score plenty of room to work.|
|On a solo audio track, director Tom Hooper offers a thorough and engaging discussion of the film and its production. “The King’s Speech: An Inspirational Story of an Unlikely Friendship” is a 23-minute EPK-style featurette that originally played on the Starz Network about the film’s production that includes interviews with Hooper and most of the cast, as well as behind-the-scenes footage from the shoot. There is also a 22-minute Q&A following a screening of the film hosted by Matt Holzman, the director of program development at Southern California NPR-affiliate KCRW, which includes Hooper along with stars Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, and Claire Bloom. History buffs will appreciate the inclusion of two actual speeches by King George VI: one is the legendary radio broadcast from Sept. 3, 1939, which is depicted at the end of the film, and the other is a black-and-white newsreel of a post-war speech from May 14, 1945. Information about the real-life Lionel Logue can be gleaned from an 11-minute interview with his grandson, Mark Logue, author of The King’s Speech: How One Man Saved the British Monarchy.|
Copyright ©2011 James Kendrick
Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick
All images copyright © The Weinstein Company and Anchor Bay Entertainment