King George VI
The Review: Just how British a film is it possible to make, if you put your mind to it? Well, to start with most British films looking to sell to a worldwide audience avoid the contemporary and select a specific period. Brits are a sucker for a triumph over adversity stories, so it would be good to structure your story around that. We’re also fascinated with the class divide, so try to illustrate the difference between the common man and the nobility, then great – make it royalty, and so much the better. There ought to be some sort of basis in fact as well, as we have such a noble history we have no need to invent new stories when all of the old ones are so effective.
Right, you’ll now need a thoroughly British cast. Colin Firth was born in a Union Jack nappy and was fed scones and jam for most of his childhood; there is none more British in his age range and with last year’s A Single Man, the full extent of his awesome acting talents truly became apparent. Suffice to say he’s at least as good here as the King of England in waiting. Now, we’ll need someone equally British to portray his wife, so you’ll be wanting Helena Bonham Carter as the woman that most of us know as The Queen Mother. Throw in such British luminaries as Michael Gambon as the current king and Derek Jacobi as the Archbishop of Canterbury, and you’re now well on your way to a British classic.
But you’ll want something to help your film stand out from the long line of British films that have gone before it. So how about some Antipodean tension to vary things up a little? The thrust of the narrative is driven by Geoffrey Rush’s speech therapist, who uses unconventional methods to achieve his results, and the core of the drama is very much about the two and their tentative interaction, verbally sizing each other up and slowly but surely finding their common ground. While Firth gets all the theatrics, Rush has the quiet certainty but still gets to show some range. Firth also gets to spark at another Aussie, Guy Pearce, who Englishes up as the distant and disaffected brother David, soon to become king himself. (And don’t worry about the Britishness quota; Jennifer Ehle evens things out as Rush’s very Australian wife.)
Well, you’ve composed a very British concept, script and cast, ideally you can get yourself worked up about something that would only bother the middle classes (the 17 F words in the script originally earned a 15 certificate, now contentiously downgraded to a 12A). With a British director who’s got experience of everything from Prime Suspect through Eastenders to Byker Grove and who creates just the right mix of stiff upped-lipped tone and gentle humour, and who marshals his cast to consistent excellent, you’ve got all the ingredients in place to make the most British film in years. Like everything else British worth its fish and chips, quality runs through this like letters in a stick of seaside rock. It manages to be entirely sympathetic over the stammering issue, rather than playing it for cheap laughs, and the stakes are raised with the ever increasing background tension with the threat of Herr Hitler and his armies growing ever more prominent, but at the end of the day, it’s about a man and his ability to get his words out. If you want a safe night out of top quality entertainment, then The King’s Speech is the film for you – just don’t expect anything too revolutionary.
Why see it at the cinema: It’s your patriotic duty to hand over your cash for this one, packed full of people who may not have been to the cinema since The Full Monty. I hope you can get a seat.
The Score: 9/10