I never thought of a film being able to exist as both a “period piece” and a “buddy flick”. The first is a very traditional type of film, the other a more modern kind of story. Well, The King’s Speech is definitely one that equally encompasses both types of stories. It’ is a very sly companionship film that, when the credits roll, you realize isn’t mainly about pre-WWII history or British nobility. Well it is, but mostly it’s about friendship. Friendship that, like most things in life, is rocky when forced. Yet after the bumps in the road are passed it builds to become a life long relationship. Beyond anything that on the surface resembles a sweeping British film about a lesser known historical event, this film shows that any man, in the immortal words of Joe Cocker, can “get by with a little help from my friends“.
When you have two extremely fine actors on screen it’s likely they will have good chemistry together. Yet, in the case of this film, it’s really an understatement. Perfectly paired together, Colin Firth (playing the inevitable King George VI) and Geoffry Rush (playing his speech coach Lionel Logue) shine brilliantly even if, at times, it is very subtle. With the weight of a worried pre-WWII England, an ailing father and philandering brother, George has a lot of pressure on him and has for years. But the biggest issue to deal with is his life long stammering problem. Lionel, weathering George’s temper, comes in and out of George’s life and starts to become like the brother he should have had. Almost the exact opposites of each other, George and Lionel both compliment bring out the best in the other man.
The King’s Speech is a deceivingly simple story that is brought to life with fine acting, beautiful music and drop dead gorgeous set designs. I’ve often not paid much attention to the art direction of many period piece films. However over the nearly 120 minute runt time I believe this is the first time I started to understand just how much effort must have went into replicating and dressing everyone in pre-war attire. Vehicles, attire, props etc. it was just mesmerizing and fully transports you into late 30’s England.
The film goes a long way to show that an affliction like stammering can happen to anyone. It takes comical route through scenes where Lionel coaches George through speech exercises. But it also shows the emotional toll it takes on George as he is simply unable to get the words past his lips. Further still is the underlying message that through perseverance (and some help from your friends and family) anyone can truly get over anything. The King’s Speech also goes beyond those personal triumphs and in a decent way to shows the power that one man and once voice can do to inspire great many. Near the very end of the film George gives his most influential speech to the nation, all the while Lionel is coaching him through the lessons supporting him the whole way. It’s not only uplifting but may bring a tear or two and yes, the acting of Rush and Firth are just that good.
Although I would be remiss if I failed to mention Philip’s wife. They do say that behind every great man is a great woman and this old saying is personified by Philips devoted wife, one Elizabeth (as in the Queen to be Elizabeth). She is brought to life by an elegant Helena Bonham Carter, who is looking to take more legitimate and respectable roles to further distance herself as Tim Burton’s go-to “Madame Macabre”. While all her support really plays second fiddle to the efforts Rush’s Lionel, she plays the part of Elizabeth so emotionally convincing and gives a very fine performance as Philip’s loving spouse at her wit’s end. 100% solid all around Carter is subtle but still impacting.
So while other famous Merchant Ivory Productions (any starring Anthony Hopkins) or others like Atonement or Gosford Park may fall guilty of taking the story waaay too seriously, you’ll find that this is almost like period piece film “light”. That may be because The King’s Speech has a slightly modern feel to it and tried to really engage the viewer rather than strive for extreme historical accuracy or significance.
Take my advice on this one, while the story may seem underwhelming or nearly boring, the outcome that is steadily built towards in this feel good sensation is anything but. While the The King’s Speech could be considered a “safe” Oscar bet, it rises above films with a similar nature because of the simple underlying theme of friendship. As it is a heavy Oscar contender (some are even calling for a sweep) it really deserves the attention it’s getting. On a personal note, where as I find other period pieces fall prey to their own indulgence and may seem esoteric, The Kings Speech really speaks to me.