I had not seen this film in time to make my ten best list. I regret that, because it definitely deserves to be on there. This is not because it accomplishes something special in regards to the royal family, but in regards to the portrait that it paints of the era.
It would not shock me if people told me they had no idea who George VI was (at least in the U.S.). But he was king of England during one of the most dynamic periods of history. The fact that he managed to maintain any sort of composure at all, given his background and the scandal the family was recovering from, shows a deep sort of courage. The film captures all of that through some of the best performances of 2010.
The film is, in a nutshell, about the efforts of Lionel Logue to cure Prince Albert of his pronounced stammer. He does so through unconventional techniques, and attempts to root through Albert’s past abuse at the hands of his father and nannies. While this occurs, there is a growing threat coming from Germany (from some obscure figure named Adolf Hitler) and a scandal involving his brother may lead to Albert being crowned king. It is a role he does not want, so he starts to confide in Logue more and more.
No analysis of this film is complete without mentioning Colin Firth’s masterful performance. He will be nominated for an Oscar, and I would not be surprised if he actually won. He plays the king as constantly trying to put on a facade of power, but is constantly thwarted by his own fears. Not just his stammer; his psychosis goes much further than that. There is one scene in particular in which he attempts to sing out his abuses of the past…but I dare not say more. The emotion and depth he manages to conjure is something that is rarely seen.
Everything about the film is built around this performance. I think the scene in which Albert and Lionel first meet is one of the most masterfully executed of the year. The way the camera moves and what the dialogue says reveals everything about these two characters within five minutes. I wish I had a clip, but copyright issues…anyway, the camera, for that first meeting, constantly closes in on Albert while he sits near a wall, literally painting him into a corner. Meanwhile, Lionel is shot from a slightly downward angle with an expansive background, giving him authority. The fact that Lionel states the two men are “equals” comes across as funny – in here, at least, Lionel is superior. Yet this changes throughout the film, to the point that by the end, they are on an even plane. This film does what film is supposed to do – give attention to how the story is told.
For a historical work, there are many allusions present. Some have suggested Shakespeare (there are several scenes in which Richard III is referenced), but I really think that the work ties closely into Alan Bennett’s play The Madness of George III. George VI feels a sort of spiritual connection to George III and wants to avoid his mistakes. He mentions him several times, about how George III’s undoing was in his failure at keeping the empire together at a time of war. This new king is made to be the antithesis of his predecessor, and it actually works.
Now, the supporting cast they have assembled is also quite good (with the notable exception of Timothy Spall’s Winston Churchill, which is undeservedly played up for laughs) and the film manages to make the British royal family seem like a normal family. You have pretty much the formula of dysfunctional – the abusive, senile father, the older condescending brother, and the negligent mother (not shown, but heavily implied). Somehow, it makes the whole situation seem universal – not an easy thing to do when you are discussing the British Royal Family. I am sure that no one in the world could ever muster sympathy for the crazed Prince Charles, even if he has taken a route that many have taken. But the film does so while still giving some reverence to the figures. It really helps the film, by showing just how public and how perfect this man was expected to be.
The King’s Speech was another of the best films of 2010, and I can only say that I am sorry I did not see it sooner. It is well executed and features some of the best performances of 2010. You owe it to yourself to see it.