Release date in India:
March 4, 2011
Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter
You don’t need to be British to know the story of King Edward VIII of England. Imagine a monarch giving up his crown to marry the woman he loves! The story that’s told less often though is that of Edward’s younger brother George VI (father of today’s Queen Elizabeth II), the man who was never meant to be king.
The King’s Speech is about George, or rather Prince Albert as he was known before he ascended the throne. It’s a simple film about a man with a speech impediment who had an enormous public role unexpectedly thrust upon him by his elder sibling’s abdication. Albert’s sentences are punctuated by stutters and long silences. Every speech is an occasion for humiliation. To save him from repeated embarrassment, Albert’s wife Elizabeth arrives at the doorstep of speech therapist Lionel Logue, an Australian and a failed actor. What Lionel does for Albert, and the uncommon friendship that develops between the king and the commoner, are the focal points of The King’s Speech.
Director Tom Hooper tells the story of how Albert overcame his stammer with empathy and a sense of humour. The dialogue writing is sharp and very very British. “Waiting for me to commence a conversation, one can wait rather a long wait,” Albert tells Lionel at one of their earliest encounters. Clearly he knows how to laugh at himself despite his misery.
“Do you know any jokes?” Lionel asks Albert one day. The reply: “Timing isn’t my strong suit.”
While watching Hitler deliver a speech, Albert’s daughter asks: “Papa, what is he saying?” Papa responds: “I don’t know but he seems to be saying it rather well.”
“What are friends for?” says Lionel. Replies Albert: “I wouldn’t know.”
It’s a comment on the things you may not envy in royal life, and the things you should not do while bringing up a child. Albert was naturally left-handed but forced to switch to right-handedness. He stammers less around Lionel and his own wife, but is worse in the presence of his controlling father and confident brother. Though a ‘diagnosis’ is not chucked in our faces, enough hints are dropped to help us guess what brought on his stammer in the first place.
Some people may call this pop psychology. Frankly I don’t care. Because the end result is a sweet film that wrapped me up so gently in its emotions that I didn’t realise at what point I started rooting for the king myself. When Albert delivers his first radio address as King George, like his wife my fists too were clenched with tension on his behalf, and the tears rolled down my cheeks though Elizabeth kept hers in check.
This is not a royal saga filled with grand palaces, gowns and jewels. It is instead a sparse film that often places its characters in narrow corridors and elongated rooms, a cinematographic choice that perhaps represents the claustrophobic confines of Albert’s mind. One particularly lovely shot has Albert facing the Accession Council – the room is overwhelmingly large, the council’s an overwhelmingly large bunch, Albert is a lone overwhelmed figure.
Colin Firth is superb as the king who overcomes his stammer as also his monarchical arrogance through his alliance with that damned Aussie who insists on calling him Bertie. Geoffrey Rush is suitably smart and over-smart by turns as Lionel Logue. And it was such a joy watching Helena Bonham Carter not playing a mass murderer for a change. Watch her as she discusses Wallis Simpson, the woman for whom Edward VIII gave up his kingship. “Apparently she has certain skills acquired in an establishment in Shanghai,” says Elizabeth with well-disguised contempt.
This brings me to the major issue I have with The King’s Speech. Why did an affectionate portrayal of one brother necessitate a negative portrayal of the other? The film projects Edward VIII (played by Guy Pearce) as an irresponsible – even slightly silly – king who bullies his kid brother. History tells us Edward VIII was hugely popular. That popularity could not have come without good reason. So why did The King’s Speech need to be one-sided and weighed so heavily against him? If the coldness that is intrinsic to royal life extracted a heavy price on Albert/George’s morale, then he too was guilty of an equal level of iciness towards his brother’s wife. Wallis Simpson wrote in her autobiography The Heart Has Its Reasons, about The Family’s attitude towards her: “…I simply did not exist.”
She was no saint, but then nor were the royals. So why does Tom Hooper gloss over the hypocrisy of the British system that famously permitted King HenryVIII repeated annulments of his marriages in dubious circumstances in the 16th century, yet in the 20th century would not allow the King of England to marry a woman simply because she was a divorcee.
These were easily avoidable flaws in an otherwise lovely film. Oddly enough while The King’s Speech has been passed by Indian Censors with no cuts and a U rating despite the series of expletives used by some of the characters, in the US it got an R (Restricted) rating. Surely that must be R for Ridiculous considering that the scenes with those swear words are among the funniest and most heart-warming in the film! And don’t get me started on the double standards of the Indian Censors who don’t allow the F-word in an Indian film if it wants a U certificate!
While that debate continues, do watch The King’s Speech for its simplicity, its compassion and most of all for the genius of Colin Firth. At one point in the film, King Edward VIII says to his brother, “I've been terribly busy.” “Doing what?” asks the future King George VI. “Kinging,” comes the reply. Well, here’s another new word for you. May it be decreed that from this day forth, brilliant acting will also be known as ColinFirthing.
Rating (out of five): ****
Release date in the US:
November 26, 2010
MPAA Rating (US):
R (“for some language”). The producers have now re-edited the film & got a more lenient PG-13, no doubt to cash in on the post-Oscar hype. To hell with artistic integrity, eh Mr Weinstein?
CBFC Rating (India):
U with no cuts
Photograph courtesy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_King%27s_Speech