When God couldn’t save the king, the queen turned to someone who could.
At the 83rd Academy Awards, The King’s Speech won the Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Director (Tom Hooper), Best Actor (Colin Firth), and Best Original Screenplay (David Seidler). The film had received twelve Oscar nominations, more than any other film. Besides the four categories it won, the film received nominations for Best Cinematography (Danny Cohen) and two for the supporting actors (Helena Bonham Carter and Geoffrey Rush), as well as two for its mise-en-scène: Art Direction and Costumes.
I am not sure how strongly the story of a stammering, early twentieth century Duke of York will appeal to audiences in Dhaka, but The King’s Speech is a must-see for our local moviemakers. Natoks and non-FDC cinema in Bangladesh are usually similar dialogue-driven dramas. Therefore, a comparative analysis with The King’s Speech is pertinent. This film has won the top award at the Producers’ Guild and the Directors’ Guild of America, the People’s choice at the Toronto Film Festival, seven Golden Globes and has been nominated for twelve Oscars. Moreover, according to market data providers, Rentrak, it has grossed near about 100 million dollars and counting, in the US and through international markets.
Of course, the scale of this production is incomparable with the size of Bangladeshi productions, but the subject matter The King’s Speech handles is of the nature that Bangladeshi filmmakers feel comfortable dealing in. Presupposing that the wily, know-it-all Bengali filmmaker receives this film positively, there may be many lessons to be learned from The King’s Speech. The question I want to pose to them before I go ahead and review the film: Does the success of a drama depend on the bare rudiments? A formidable screenplay, some stellar acting, a picky director and, and: a knowledgeable team? Or, is there some mantra behind it?
The story of the The King’s Speech is as thorough a look into the world of a stammerer as ever seen. The three character plot may seem rather linear, but it is perforated with subtext. Director Tom Cooper does a good job of executing the tension that writer David Seidler writes into the relationship between his Royal Highness, or Bertie, (Colin Firth) and his Australian speech therapist, Lionel Louge (Geoffery Rush). My one complaint about the script: the viewer has to suffer through too many of Bertie’s excruciatingly agonizing failed orations. To call for empathy is alright, but the repeated pain inflicted on the audience needed to be curtailed.
In his screenplay, writer David Seidler in effect, creates three worlds-the early twentieth century time period; the protocol encrusted world of the Royalty and Lionel’s world- where he is king and the Crown becomes a commoner. There is a reason behind his impudence: he supports that his unorthodox and controversial methods will work on the Duke, only if they behave as equals. The discomfort that this situation creates for the Duke, opens up a novel avenue for both textual and subtextual investigations on sociability in the monarchy. Also, as the relationship between patient and “doctor” grows, a unique friendship is explored.
Geoffery Rush, Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter’s acting does justice to the script. Variety Magazine’s Peter Debruge claims, in his September 4, 2010 article, that the big scenes are indisputably the monarch’s. Yet, the therapist’s stubbornness in choosing his way over the king’s, has more onscreen visibility than the monarch’s royal perseverance to deliver and finish a speech. The Duke of York does have the more emotional scenes, but, the memorable character sketch and performance is the therapist’s. Geoffery Rush gets to play a delightfully independent persona and everything Rush does onscreen enriches the story. His every gesture, every deliberation brings us closer to this period piece.
We are reminded very early into the film that Lionel the therapist is a failed actor. This bit of information foreshadows the later revelation that he is also an actor, somewhat, in real life: he is not a certified practitioner. This foreshadowing illuminates Lionel’s inner conflict and gives the goings-on of his mind as much importance as the conflicts in the title character’s mind.
The props and sets have a distinct charateristic of their own. Every wall is rich and textured, every room borrows heavily from a particular palette and every character and every staging uses spaces to make them look like lived-in places. Tom Cooper and the director of photography, Danny Cohen, exploit the locations to a point of flaunting their baroque beauty. Actors are shown with ample headroom, they are often short-sided and the close-ups are shot with wide lenses giving the viewer a much wider, almost askew, angle of view behind the actor.
Danny Cohen, in his interview with ARRI News, says they decided to shoot in this manner in order to not lose context, to increase the period piece’s authenticity and to increase the story’s impact. Cooper and Cohen went with two ARRI Lite cameras, the ARRI Master Prime lens kit and to get the cold look they wanted: Fuji Eterna Vivid 500T film stock.