A few years ago The Queen was released to great acclaim, earning Helen Mirren numerous accolades as she took up her role as the monarch in the aftermath of Princess Diana’s death. It was one of those ‘British Movies That Could’, heralding perhaps a new Golden Age for British Cinema.
But when I saw it I couldn’t help but look past Mirren’s – admittedly very believable – performance and wonder whether this was just another excuse to show off the British countryside and earn a few bucks from curious Americans with a fascination with the Monarchy. So I had some reservations going to see The King’s Speech, though it turned out to be a much more rewarding experience than Stephen Frears’ foray into heritage drama.
The King’s Speech is set in the couple of years leading up to the declaration of World War II, where Prince Albert (Colin Firth) is struggling to cope with his stammer, King George V (Michael Gambon) is nearing the end of his life and Prince Edward (Guy Pearce) is having a very open affair with twice-married American Wallis Simpson (Eve Best). After having a disastrous appearance in front of a crowd at Wembley, Albert’s wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) decides to send him to unorthodox Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) and the magic commences.
Let’s get this out of the way: by far and away the best thing about this movie is the on-screen chemistry between Firth, who is quite brilliant as the Prince, and Rush, who is both funny and compassionate towards his unlikely client. The best scenes of the film are undoubtedly those set in Logue’s workspace where both characters are able to let loose and be themselves rather than being constrained by any uptight rules surrounding the royals. These also happen to be the most heartfelt and genuinely hilarious moments, and you kind of wish that more of the film was set around this.
Instead, a lot of the film follows the history of the royals at this point in time, which, while important to the story, detracts a little from the more engaging scenes between Logue and Albert. By the end of the film, while there is a very satisfying (if predictable) conclusion, it feels more like a historical drama than a heartfelt true story. Okay, maybe it was a little too much to expect that a heritage drama starring Colin Firth was going to be solely set around a small and dingy room, but somehow this would have been more daring than having your conventional pomp and gold curtains that envelops the final third of the movie.
Nevertheless, The King’s Speech has its great moments, not least when Logue actually gets the Prince to swear uncontrollably, which is strangely hilarious and when Albert talks about his childhood in a frank and heartfelt way. These moments are perhaps a little too fleeting though and Helena Bonham Carter is pretty much wasted as Elizabeth: usually she lights up any movie she’s in, but here she is given too little screen time to really shine. This could be said about the wealth of talent on offer here with the exception of Firth and Rush. It’s a real shame.
Verdict: Brilliant performances and chemistry between Firth and Rush are the shining lights in a film that can be categorized alongside many other British heritage dramas, thanks to it being swallowed by typical conventions in the slightly disappointing final third.
7 out of 10
This post is appearing in FreedomSpark Online.