Monday, 28 March 2011

The King’s Speech

We saw it last night, thankfully it was in English with French subtitles! In fact you could never successfully dub this film into a foreign language because so much of it centres around the halting speech rhythms of Colin Firth’s excellent performance. 

Because it won the Oscars and, of course, because it concerns royalty, it is creating a lot of interest here. I am still not used to the fascination that French people have for our royal family and I was certainly not expecting the size of the audience that turned up on a wet Sunday night.

The film is really a two-hander between Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, who plays Lionel Logue, the unqualified Australian speech therapist who worked with “Bertie”, King George VI, to overcome his stammer. Their relationship is far from straightforward and often very tense, his Australian informality clashing against the formality of an English royal.

I relished Helena Bonham Carter’s portrayal of the Queen Mother and especially her cut crystal 1930’s English accent. It was a very sympathetic portrait apart from her total rejection of Wallis Simpson. There was always an enormous gulf between them in real life, which was well conveyed by the film. At one point she was asked what hold Wallis Simpson had over “David” (King Edward VIII), her reply was that she had apparently learnt certain talents in an establishment in Shanghai. Only Helena Bonham Carter could have delivered this line with the necessary combination of restraint, elegance and distaste, leaving you in no doubt of her opinions.

There were throughout the film small understated touches of humour, which lightened the subject matter. I think you had to be English to get these because, even when they were well translated, few of the French audience seemed to understand them.

Apart from the brilliant performances why is it so successful? I think that, like Bishop Turini said about “Of Men and Gods” last week, “it's because it's such a human story". Any story of courage and persistence, which results in overcoming a personal handicap is inspiring.  Add the royal element and even Hollywood couldn’t resist it!

The final scene when George VI has to deliver a radio broadcast to the Nation and the Commonwealth announcing the start of World War II was gripping. You watched, sitting on the edge of your seat, while he struggled to speak without stammering.  It was painful and embarrassing at first, but finally very moving and triumphant. Colin Firth’s body language, after he had successfully completed this ordeal, convincingly but subtly conveyed his newly found confidence.

Definitely a film not to be missed!


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