Wednesday, 2 February 2011

The King's Speech: review

There are many lovely moments in this film, which portrays (as surely we all know by now) the attempts to cure the future George VI of his debillitating stammer. Worthy doctors stick pebbles in his mouth ("It worked for Demosthenes"); a soldier's horse brays in the silence as the Duke of York (as he then was) attempts to make his first radio broadcast. The three main characters are played with wit and sensitivity: Colin Firth as his Royal H-H-Highness displaying temper and charm within one frame; Helena Bonham-Carter absolutely marvellously enjoying herself as the future Queen Mum ("this is rather fun, isn't it", she says as she sits on her husband in a doctor's surgery), and Geoffrey Rush as the Antipodean therapist whose unorthodox methods are to win through in the end. (The little princesses, too, are patently adorable, especially when Margaret forgets to curtsey to her father once he's become king and has to be gently reminded by her sister Elizabeth.) There is a lot of comedy, arising not just from the therapies, but also from social awkwardnesses such as coming home to find the Queen in your sitting room. (What would you do, I wonder?)

The message is clear: repression and anger are bad; we must get in touch with our inner softnesses, dispel all childhood fears, and shake off those nasty Victorian neuroses in order to become a fit and modern country. Fair dinkums, as the speech therapist himself would say.

It's as beautifully shot as the game bag at Sandringham. London emerges from wispy fog; the crown estates loom and glower; even the therapist's surgery conspires to be as enormous and daunting as the shadowy recesses of Westminster Cathedral. It is a large and terrifying world, on the knife edge of war; and George VI will come to embody Britain.

The film moves ponderously - royally, in fact - apart from a few montages of the therapy sessions at work. It's enjoyable stuff, to see a King as a man, and to see that man overcoming his weaknesses to become more than a man. What little tension there is in the story is made up for by the superb acting; my only gripe being that someone obviously felt that more tension was needed and injected it with a slightly unnecessary scene in which the therapist's credentials were questioned by a grumpy archbishop.

Its veracity, too, doesn't bother me: it is, after all, a film. One doesn't want to turn into the sort of person who, on hearing the clock strike in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, says 'but they didn't have clocks in ancient Rome.'

All in all, then, a fine filly of a film; not a work of genius, but something that British filmmaking is justly proud of.

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