Celebrating Great Films

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The King's Speech

#185 at time of writing.

Never have I had so much trouble getting tickets at my own local cinema; this film is proving immensely popular. No doubt partly due to the royal fervour stirred up by the imminent marriage of Prince William to Kate Middleton.

A hot tip for the Oscars, this movie appeals on three levels. First, as the compelling personal story of how King George VI - with the help of his speech therapist Lionel Logue - coped with having power thrust upon him when Edward VIII abdicated. The two lead roles are played brilliantly by Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush. The filmmakers had access to Logue's previously undiscovered diaries, so they had a first-hand account on which to base their portrayal of his relationship with the King.

Secondly, the film appeals as a period piece, full of glimpses of 1920s and 30s London shrouded in fog, when cars and wireless radios were a novelty and everybody of note spoke with impeccable RP. Nowhere are the charming traditions and antiquated strictures of interwar Britain more pronounced than in the halls of the monarchy.

And thirdly, for being set against a time of great crisis for the monarchy, for Britain and for the world, when tensions and attitudes built up to a flashpoint that culminated in the declaration of World War II - a war that marked the watershed between the British Empire and the modern world we know today.

The cinema audience clapped when the credits rolled, even though I doubt any of the makers were there to appreciate the gesture. I wouldn't be surprised if the same thing happens at many other screenings - there's just something about the pomp and ceremony of the film that rouses one to spontaneous applause.

Click here to hear the real King George VI's radio address to the nation on September 3rd 1939, the titular speech of the film. Listening to the King's halting words, it is easy to imagine Lionel Logue in the recording booth with him, gesturing and encouraging him to overcome his stammer.

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