Recent Historical Films

 

 

The King's Speech (Tom Hooper, 2010)
 

 

 

 

 
 

 

Running time: 118 minutes. Written by David Seidler. Directed by Tom Hooper. Starring: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter.

 

4 Oscars: Best Picture, Director, Actor (Colin Firth) and Screenplay. 12 Nominations.

 

 

Synopsis

After the death of his father King George V (Michael Gambon) and the scandalous abdication of King Edward VIII (Guy Pearce), Bertie (Colin Firth) who has suffered from a debilitating speech impediment all his life, is suddenly crowned King George VI of England. With his country on the brink of war and in desperate need of a leader, his wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), the future Queen Mother, arranges for her husband to see an eccentric speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). After a rough start, the two delve into an unorthodox course of treatment and eventually form an unbreakable bond. With the support of Logue, his family, his government and Winston Churchill (Timothy Spall), the King will overcome his stammer and deliver a radio-address that inspires his people and unites them in battle. Based on the true story of King George VI, THE KING'S SPEECH follows the Royal Monarch's quest to find his voice.

 

From the Director

"I think what's so fascinating about the story [in The King's Speech] is it debunks any simplistic notion of privilege. George VI's story properly understood is not a story of privilege; his upbringing was so nightmarish that he got a stammer as a result. When he became king, clearly that was a nightmare because of his stammer, because of the coming of radio as a technology. So if he's not privileged, the monarchy has to shift as a result. And you understand the current Queen if you understand her father, that sense of duty and that sense that it's the opposite of a hedonistic approach to power. It's very much about his idea of duty, which I don't think we have particularly strongly in our culture anymore" (By Tom Hooper).

 

Quotes on the Film

"'A fully satisfying and uplifting period piece that achieves its dramatic potential without sacrificing historical accuracy." (James Berardinelli, ReelViews).

"It's warm, richly funny and highly enjoyable human story, that takes an intriguing sideways glance at a crucial period in 20th-century history" (Andrew O'Hehir, Salon.com).

"Let's say without equivocation: Colin Firth deserves an Oscar for his lead role in The King's Speech as the stammering King George VI" (Anthony Lane, New Yorker).

"'As the speechmaker and his speech teacher, Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush elevate each other's game to the stratosphere and beyond." (Carrie Rickey, Philadelphia Inquirer).

 

 

Press Clippings

 

By Peter Travers

It could have been a bunch of pip-pip, stiff-upper-lip Brit blather about a stuttering king who learns to stop worrying and love the microphone. Instead, The King's Speech — a crowning achievement powered by a dream cast — digs vibrant human drama out of the dry dust of history. King George VI (Colin Firth) — father of the present Queen Elizabeth — found his own Dr. Strangelove in Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), a wildly eccentric Australian speech therapist who made it possible for the stammering monarch to go on radio in 1939 and rally his subjects to support the declaration of war on Hitler's Germany.

The King's Speech plays out on the battlefield of words, not action. Writer David Seidler (doing keenly insightful work partly owing to his own bouts with a stammer) had conceived the story first as a play. Before you can think the words "static" and "confining," be advised that director Tom Hooper, garlanded with Emmy dust for John AdamsElizabeth I,Longford and Prime Suspect, breathes fresh, urgent life into every frame of this powerhouse. Hooper, 37, is a prodigious talent. The emotion this film produces is staggering.

Hooper begins in 1925, as the king, then merely Prince Albert, is trying to speak at the British Empire Exhibition. The words stick in his throat, and his silences between syllables fill the stadium. The prince's embarrassment is acute, and deeply felt by his compassionate wife, Elizabeth (a superb Helena Bonham Carter creates miracles with every subtle look and gesture), who goads him to visit Logue. His Highness goes into heavy snob mode in the presence of this commoner, who demands that they use first names. When Lionel first calls Albert "Bertie," Firth's poleaxed reaction is priceless. Lionel treats speech lessons like therapy sessions, pushing for details about life in the royal family. What he gets is a portrait of a blowhard father, George V (Michael Gambon), and a taunting brother, Edward VIII (Guy Pearce is absolutely stellar), who reduces the proud, vulnerable Albert to rubble by committing the one unforgivable sin: Edward abdicates the throne to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson (Eve Best), leaving Bertie to succeed him. Suddenly, the man who would not be king most assuredly is.

Firth's nuanced brilliance is a thing of bruised beauty. Oscar-nominated last year for A Single Man, he gives a towering performance that deserves a shower of awards. And Rush is his match, fiercely funny in the hilarious and heartfelt interactions between king and commoner. Lionel is a failed actor given to grand gestures, and Rush chows down on this feast of a role, jolting the movie to life. Firth plays the counterpoint, the blue blood bred to hold it all together. It's uproarious to watch Lionel prod Bertie to lose his cool, forcing him to sing out a symphony of shit-fuck-bugger-me swearring (all stammer-free). Luckily, this release takes place in Lionel's home, where his wife and children are unaware of the royal patient. The scene in which Lionel's wife, Myrtle (Jennifer Ehle), meets the king has a special poignancy, if you remember Ehle and Firth as lovers in TV's Pride and Prejudice.

The King's Speech doesn't have the budget to show coronations and pomp, but it misses nothing in resonant intimacy. Hooper, with a Brit father and Aussie mother, throws himself into the scene in which Lionel stands like a conductor in front of the king as he delivers the speech of his life. Two men alone create an epic landscape of feeling in one of the very best movies of the year.

(Rolling Stone, November 24, 2010)

 

 

By Rex Reed

I firmly oppose the idea that art is competitive, and I deplore all back-slapping, self-congratulatory awards shows without exception, so predicting year-end prize winners a month early is usually to be avoided at all costs. But having said all of that, I remain passionate in my unalterable opinion as I declare The King’s Speech the best film of 2010. Nothing of its greatness has preceded it, and nothing I have seen in what’s to come in the next few weeks can equal its splendor and magnitude. Therefore, I see no reason how or why this will change. The King’s Speech is a masterpiece.

This true story, impeccably directed by Tom Hooper (13 Emmys for TV’s John Adams miniseries) from an exemplary, well-researched screenplay by David Seidler, is a history lesson with warm, heart-rending humor that centers on the quirky relationship between England’s beloved King George VI (Colin Firth, in the performance of a lifetime) and his irreverent, unconventional Australian speech teacher, a failed Shakespearean actor named Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). The film is a colossal triumph on so many levels that it’s a challenge to know how to begin to describe it.

In a meticulous prologue, we are moved to empathize immediately with the predicament of England’s “stammering prince” when his father, George V, asks him to deliver an inaugural broadcast in 1925 on a terrifying new invention called radio. The nation and the entire world holds its breath as the poor Duke of York steps reluctantly to the mike at the British Empire Exhibition in Wembley, and out comes a stuttering jumble of babble. By 1934, the mortified prince is at the mercy of an army of therapists who try vainly to cure his pathological speech impediment while he tries to speak with his mouth full of marbles. (Red with frustration and rage, Colin Firth gives a colorful, sympathetic performance that is nothing short of perfection.) Then, just when he’s about to give up hope of a public life and retire in seclusion, an unorthodox and controversial upstart enters his life, bossing him around and enraging him further with the effrontery to call him by his nickname, “Bertie.”

His daughters, two little princesses named Margaret and Elizabeth (the latter will succeed her father as Queen Elizabeth II) are amused but tolerant; the Duke’s wife (Helena Bonham Carter, with the same build and body language as the future Queen Mum), meanwhile, tracks down Mr. Logue in the classifieds and drags the future king to a grim section of London, having him pose as “Mr. Johnson.” It’s hate at first sight, but by 1936, when his handsome, besotted older brother, Edward, the Duke of Windsor (Guy Pearce), after one year on the throne, scandalizes the royal family and abdicates the British throne to marry “the woman he loves,” a twice-divorced American from Baltimore who was sent carnations by Adolf Hitler, Bertie is forced against his will to take over the duties by default and inherit a crown he doesn’t want any more than his brother did. Faced with a leader who couldn’t address the world, and a country on the verge of World War II, the British people are horrified, and Bertie has no choice but to bring back the estranged Lionel Logue he had unceremoniously fired.  Some of the film’s most interesting and amusing scenes show Logue’s bizarre methods of treatment, forcing the king to lie on the floor and endure annoying exercises, strengthening his jaw and diaphragm muscles while speaking in riddles. While animosity builds slowly to planes of trust and even affection between two men who couldn’t be more different, the movie also takes you behind the scenes of the palaces and country estates like Sandringham and Balmoral, in the same manner as The Queen. The royal family lives elegantly, but are not above a bit of poisonous royal gossip. At an awkward visit to a ball honoring the Duke of Windsor and Wallis Simpson, the Duchess snidely confides to Winston Churchill (Timothy Spall), “Apparently, she has certain skills, acquired in an establishment in Shanghai.”

How it all turns out sets the template for a film of extraordinary humanity and spirit. The first time his two daughters address Bertie as “Your Majesty,” the look of resignation, sadness and pity on Firth’s face when he realizes he is the first monarch to succeed a living person who was a beloved romantic figure to his people is wrenching. Badgering and browbeating the new king, taking outrageous liberties and humiliating him by unceremoniously plopping himself down on his throne, Logue gives him the kick in the pants to carry on the torch, curing him in the process. Bertie pays back his new best friend by inviting him to the coronation and seating him in the royal box at Westminster Abbey. When the king declares war against Germany, it is Logue by his side, filling him with the courage, forcefulness and cajones to do it so triumphantly that the speech (we now know) makes history. The world listens to the radio and cheers, never knowing George VI is being egged on, in the pauses, to say the “F word” three times silently to himself for dramatic emphasis. The odd couple remain close friends until the king dies in 1952 at age 56.

It’s an epic story, but the regal pomp and pageantry are never intrusive. Even with his inventive staging and surprising visuals, Director Hooper keeps everything as real and natural as breathing. The majestic cast is overwhelming: Claire Bloom as the king’s mother, Queen Mary; Jennifer Ehle as Mrs. Logue, the surprised wife who is so shocked to find the King of England in her parlor that she doesn’t know what else to do but invite him to stay for dinner; Derek Jacobi as the archbishop; Michael Gambon as King George V. Each contributes heft and ballast to a film rich in awards-season fertility. But it is still Colin Firth who, after a long and distinguished career, gets the role that should guide him to his long-deserved Oscar. As the actor of the year in the film of the year, I can’t think of enough adjectives to praise him properly. The King’s Speech has left me speechless. 

(New York Observer, November 11, 2010)