The King's Speech

The King's Speech

***

Reviewed by: James Benefield

The King's Speech is both a lot funnier and, strangely, a lot more polite than you'd probably expect.

The humour mostly comes from Geoffrey Rush's speech therapist, who aims to cure Colin Firth's Duke of York's terrible stammer. And this is increasingly imperative; as the film begins, reigning monarch King George V (Michael Gambon) is ailing. There is some controversy over the next-in-line – Guy Pearce's Edward. Not only is Edward a bi-plane-flying, party-loving socialite but he is also in a relationship with American divorcee Wallis Simpson (Eve Best). Marrying her would cause a constitutional crisis – and potentially rip apart the Church of England.

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With the advent of radio, the monarch must be able to speak well, and Firth may well be in the job sooner than he thinks. After trying many options, wife Helena Bonham Carter's Elizabeth finally turns to an Antipodean, specialising in some rather unconventional techniques, based on London's Harley Street. The Duke and the speech therapist form an unlikely friendship, verbally and even physically bouncing off each other with middle-aged abandon.

These scenes are the backbone of the film. They are funny, entertaining and performed by two actors obviously enjoying themselves enormously. Geoffrey Rush delivers great line after great line and Firth 'reacts' with a deadpan straightness. You'd wish there would be more of these moments. Additional comedy comes from some of the background characters. For instance, Timothy Spall's Winston Churchill rides the line of parody (mostly) successfully.

As for the film's politeness – some of it comes, predictably, from Firth's monarch-in-waiting. He's mild-mannered and sensitive royalty, and Firth employs a similarly understated approach than that of his work in A Single Man. The portrayal is quintessentially English, and as good as we've come to expect from Firth recently.

The remaining politeness comes from the film's level of drama. There are crown-loads of dramatic potential here – the troublesome father-son relationship between Gambon's truculent, demanding monarch and Firth's stammering son; the tension coming from the American interloper; the painful, unfolding, prelude to the Second World War playing out – but it's all background noise. Sometimes it feels forgotten about entirely, and historical perspective is, almost tastelessly, lost. And although there is a definite direction and development throughout the movie, there's only a sprinkling of edge-of-your-seat material. Any drama is tentative and inoffensive.

So, although there is a lot of humour, crowd-pleasing fun and some award-worthy performances, there is a lack of edge and darkness here. Triumph over adversity is fine if you get the measure of bitter and sweetness right. The King's Speech fails, and the end result is questionable and problematic.

Reviewed on: 25 Oct 2010
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The relationship between King George VI and an unconventional Australian speech therapist.
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Director: Tom Hooper

Writer: David Seidler

Starring: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, Michael Gambon

Year: 2010

Runtime: 110 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK, Australia

Festivals:

London 2010

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