By: Oberst von Berauscht (A Toast) –
In the United States, filmmaker Tom Hooper is best known for helming HBO miniseries John Adams, a historical drama depicting the events of the American Revolution as seen by the aforementioned founding father (and if you haven’t seen it, I certainly recommend it).Like John Adams, The King’s Speech uses a historical backdrop to tell a character’s story.
Albert, the Duke of York (Colin Firth) was a little seen figure in the British House of Windsor.This was because as a young child he developed a stammer and thus hated public speaking.As he was second in line for royal succession, pressure built for him to deliver speeches.Finally he meets up with Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), an Australian speech therapist with unique credentials and an approach that hasn’t been tried (you might call him a cunning linguist). Over the next decade, Albert would ascend to the throne to become King George VI, with Lionel at his side helping him through difficult speeches and turning points in history.Ultimately proving the maxim;
It is easy to make a historical drama stuffy, overinflated with self-importance, and reeking with pontification.Thankfully, Hooper avoids this every step of the way.The film is given a surprisingly humorous edge thanks to the wonderful chemistry between Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush.
The dialog is sharp and full of a distinct wit found almost exclusively in British comedy.Speech impediments are no laughing matter and the film never makes fun of King George’s affliction.David Siedler’s script instead uses humorous dialog to break up the drama and ultimately to humanize these historical figures. Colin Firth plays a King fearful that his speech issues will cause him to be associated with “Mad King George III”.
It was indeed a time in history when any frailty was seen as weakness, or even a sign of psychological malfunction.And Geoffrey Rush’s Lionel serves as the perfect counterpoint to this, having seen many people with impediments to speech go on to greater things.
In one of the film’s most important scenes, Albert appears at Lionel’s office on a day they are not supposed to meet and tells a story that has a lot of bearing on his seeming lack of confidence.This seemingly simple dialog is shot by crosscutting between the two.When the camera focuses on Rush, it is a low camera shot looking up, which is contrasted with shots of Colin Firth angled down.This is just one example of how Hooper uses camera placement to comment on the scene and convey which characters hold the advantage over the other.
He used a similar method in John Adams, but he seems to have learned to be more subtle in this approach.Historical dramas seem to benefit from lower tech camera techniques; it emphasizes the importance of the events and characters.Too much glitz prevents you from investing emotionally in the events.
The film’s climax is (and it isn’t a spoiler because the trailer gives it away) King George VI’s speech to his country regarding the British Empire’s entering of WWII.For a film about the King working with a speech therapist, there are surprisingly few scenes covering the King’s speeches.This works to the audience’s advantage, providing a level of suspense which culminates in this well-shot sequence.The King delivers his radio address, his first of many, to an audience of millions.This rousing scene is the culmination of all the hard work both Lionel Logue and George VI put into giving the British people a voice of resistance against the oppressive Third Reich.
The King’s Speech uses clever dialog and splendid performances to give a rather straightforward story unique detail, making it one of the best films of the year.
Worth abdicating the throne.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time Colin Firth stutters (see how long you make it)
Take a Drink: whenever Colin Firth speaks a full sentence without stuttering