Tom Hooper is a director who went on an interesting journey on his way to the Oscar podium. Initially directing episodes of the likes of Byker Grove and Eastenders, Hooper found his niche in helming one-off TV movies about real people. These films included Longford and Elizabeth I as well as the cinematic release; The Damned United in which our old friend Michael Sheen played notorious football manager Brian Clough. It was a film based on a real story that earned Hooper national acclaim and saw him scoop the Best Director award at the 2011 ceremony.
That film in question was The King’s Speech which had an interesting journey from initial conception to arriving on the screen. Screenwriter David Seidler learnt of the relationship between King George VI and Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue and wanted to tell the story partly because he himself had a stammer. After securing the diaries of Logue, his plans were halted when the Queen Mother asked Seidler not to write anything while she was still alive. After she passed away, Seidler continued writing and the finished article was his play The King’s Speech. The film went on to become one of the most-watched films of that year and it attracted a generation to the cinema who hadn’t been in years. Part of the reason for this is that The King’s Speech is quite a universal tale about finding one’s voice and standing up for yourself. At times The King’s Speech resembles a sports film as it features many montages of Logue and King George training up for the latter’s next important public function. But more than that it’s about how a friendship can inspire somebody to be more than they ever thought they could be. I think the fact that the character in question is a British monarch is entirely by-the-by and instead the odd couple relationship works in the favour of The King’s Speech. The film builds up to a sterling finale where Logue helps George prepare for the speech he is forced to deliver to announce Britain’s entry into the Second World War. This scene is made all the more poignant by the inclusion of Beethoven’s 7th symphony playing over the top of it which some people thought was actually part of Alexandre Desplat’s original score.
Of course, like most of the films on this list, if you poke at The King’s Speech too much holes will eventually start to appear. At times it did feel as if we were being rushed through the history of Britain between the wars, with the section on Edward and Mrs. Simpson being particularly poorly paced. However Seidler’s main concern wasn’t particularly with the history of the piece but rather with the characters themselves. This to me lifted The King’s Speech over other similar period pieces that have been nominated for, and in this film’s case, won the Best Picture award. The film is further enhanced by a trio of fine performers led by the spectacular Colin Firth in the role of King George. What’s wonderful about Firth’s performance is that he never overdoes George’s speech impediment and he makes you really feel for the character every time he is stuck with nothing to say. I think that Firth makes the role more than just the disability as he ably portrays George’s loving relationship with his wife and two daughters. As his wife, Helena Bonham Carter is just magnificent as she plays Elizabeth with the right mix of dignity and rebelliousness. Carter and Firth’s chemistry is just perfect and they make for a believable royal couple throughout the film. Also worthy of a mention is Geoffrey Rush who is a joy to watch as the jobbing Australian actor who finds himself in a rather odd situation. Rush’s larger-than-life turn is the perfect contrast to Firth’s introverted performance and therefore the two make a rather great pair. The King’s Speech went on to be the big winner at that year’s Oscars with Hooper, Seidler and Firth all picking up awards along the way. Whilst by no means perfect, The King’s Speech is a great character-driven piece that is more than just a costume drama. While it’s never utterly remarkable, The King’s Speech is an easy watch and one that has just enough positive features to justify its Best Picture win.