Monday, 14 February 2011

The King's Speech 2010


The British film industry is fairly small compared to Hollywood. And as far as national cinemas go, it does not have the impact that its Indian or French counterparts have. Yet, every year there are a number of British films that deliver everything one expects from seriously good cinema. Without getting into an in-depth analysis of British films over the decades, and their relevance in the construct and de-construct of 'Britishness', it should suffice to say that I am excited to see more and more of these films figure in international film festivals as well as Academy nominations. Although international recognition is not all that counts, it has made it easier to discuss British cinema without someone snorting that Hugh Grant is the quintessential Englishman or that England produces nothing but soppy love stories and dated heritage films.

Just within the noughties, there has been a change in the output of the UK film industry. There seems to be less concentration on 'standing out' and more on making good films. The budgets seem to have improved too, bringing the 'slick' factor to an already talented industry. And with all this, I think there has been a change in Colin Firth's career too.

After many years of acting, Firth found stardom when he played Mr Darcy in the 1995 TV drama Pride & Prejudice. But despite appearing in other mini-series and films thereafter, he did not strike a chord again till he played another Darcy in 2001's Bridget Jones' Diary. Since then, he has tried to play varied characters, but mostly in mediocre or outright bad films, probably in an attempt to break his typecast. Of course not all his films have been absolute wastes and Mamma Mia, Genova and Easy Virtue (all in 2008) did much to establish his credibility as an actor and showcase his range. Finally in 2009, he struck gold. Tom Ford's gorgeous A Single Man was not only an excellent film, but it gave Firth a new status; it earned him Golden Globe and Oscar nominations and a Best Actor nod from BAFTA. Without wasting any time it seems, Firth has made heads turn with his 2010 performance as King George VI in The King’s Speech

The film opens with the Duke of York's awkward stammering speech in 1925, leading to his wife's renewed efforts to find him a speech therapist, so he can fulfil his public role on live radio without embarrassment. Enter Geoffrey Rush's speech therapist, Lionel Logue, who not only trains the Duke 'Bertie' through speeches but becomes his close friend and ally. When King George V dies and the Prince of Wales takes the throne, only to abdicate soon after, Bertie has to step up and become king. Logue is there for him, every step of the way and though the film ends with an address to the nation in 1939, just before World War II, a final title card proclaims that Logue and Bertie remained allies and friends for years after. 

The film's accuracy in the portrayal of historical events has been contested and the film makers cite artistic license as their excuse; but the performances are undoubtedly par excellence. Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush seem to have ingested the roles they are meant to be playing and have become the characters. Their timing is immaculate, their expressions sublime. Every scene they have together, especially during the time Logue is trying to convince Bertie of his abilities, appears to be a boxing match, where the players dance around each other, delivering expert blows. Helena Bonham Carter, as the Duchess of York, pulls off a good performance too, but one can't help notice her inherent kookiness, which is probably difficult to erase after working with Tim Burton in film after film, for years. Guy Pearce, as King Edward VIII, has not disappointed either - he appears to be a silly fool, uninterested in leading his nation and besotted with his lover. In all fairness, his character is fairly one-dimensional and he has no problem delivering what is required of him. The script writers have obviously devoted themselves to creating high drama in all the scenes featuring Firth and Rush, so if one forgets the historical weaknesses in the story, it is an excellent rendition of a battle of wills and a beautiful story of trust and an unequal friendship. 

And Colin Firth simply shines. His stammering, insecure 'Bertie', who swings from a sweet husband and father, to a temperamental Duke, and on to a petulant king-to-be, is a delight to watch. He has already repeated his BAFTA success of last year and has additionally won the Golden Globe too. What remains to be seen is whether last year's winner of the Academy Award, Jeff Bridges, repeats his success and once again steals Oscar glory from right under Firth's nose...or not. Only a couple of weeks before all shall be revealed...

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