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The King’s Speech – A triumph of filmmaking

The King's SpeechTake a man and give him a seemingly insurmountable problem, pile on the pressure until finally he stands victorious and you have the the baseline of many films too numerous to mention. Film heroes from James Bond to Indiana Jones to Rocky have all trodden a similar path – and yet “The King’s Speech” is a triumph and well deserving of all its plaudits, not least the 12 Oscar nominations for this reason. It is different in so many other ways. And what is breathtakingly refreshing about this movie is it doesn’t try to assault the senses, on the contrary, like a fine wine, it’s allowed to breath and envelope you in its consummate craftsmanship.

The story it tells is a factual one about the ascent of King George VI (Colin Firth) to the English throne on the death of his father King George V (Michael Gambon) and the abdication of his brother Edward (Guy Pearce) who wishes to marry an American divorcee Wallace Simpson. The film opens as Bertie (King George VI to be) attempts to make a speech to a crowd in Wembley Stadium at the Empire Exhibition of 1925 and is defeated by his crippling stammer. His loving and loyal wife the Duchess of York (Helena Bonham Carter) feels her husband’s pain and tries to make eye contact with him to infuse him with her support. Believing someone somewhere has the knowledge to help the Prince, she finally meets Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), a self styled Australian speech therapist who honed his craft at the coal face of shell shocked WW1 vets, but as he admits himself, possesses no doctorate or letters after his name. An uneasy trust builds between these two unlikeliest of friends, royal and commoner as the events of history unfold and Lionel tries to get Bertie to recognise that the root of his problem is fear of his father and his brother. This angers Bertie when Lionel pushes his point that he would make an excellent King should his brother abdicate and a short break in their friendship follows. But as his coronation approaches Bertie concedes and seeks Lionel’s help once again. I love the moment when Lionel’s wife comes into her sitting room and finds there the Queen of England helping herself to a cup of tea and in walks the King leaving her completely speechless.

It’s a simple tale about a revered monarch beset by a crippling stammer. The worse thing about a speech impediment is that it lays bare to the world that which we all work hard to conceal and to a large extent succeed and that is our fear. Worse still is the apparently universal fear of public speaking. There’s a very touching moment when the King’s wife finds him trying to come to grips with his new enormous responsibilities as King as he pours over state documents. He breaks down under this weight and is comforted by his wife who reveals that she turned down his proposal of marriage twice, not because she didn’t love him, but rather she didn’t relish the life of a royal. But she tells Bertie he has such a beautiful stammer and had hoped they would be left alone because of it. The film is peppered with beautiful, quiet and personal moments between the King and Lionel also. When the monarch tells him he doesn’t know how to thank him for his help, Lionel prompts “a knighthood” with a mischievous grin.

But war with Hitler’s Germany brings this film to it’s conclusion as Britain declares war and the King makes his speech to his subjects over radio, recognising the horrors and loss that awaits them. This is a speech where he is determined to sound resolute and yet empathetic to the people. And once again, with the coaching of Lionel in a private booth, he rises to the occassion and infuses his listeners with courage and hope to see them through the coming trial. What is touching to see is that, powerful and wealthy though the King of England may be, nonetheless he draws strength and inspiration from the same well we all do, family and close friends. Quite simply filmmaking in its purest form, fine script, great performances and impeccable direction.

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