Thursday, August 20, 2015

BEST PICTURE SHOWCASE: "The King's Speech" (2010)

If you're going to release a film about British royalty, you're probably best behooved to have this film be written by a British screenwriter, directed by a British director, star British actors and be distributed by British distributors.  Hey, novel concept, isn't it?  Lord knows Hollywood would turn it into special effects and love triangles.  2010's The King's Speech was written by David Siedler (British), directed by Tom Hooper (British), starred Colin Firth (British) and was distributed by...well, several companies, but most were British.  For the U.S. distribution, the Weinstein Company got on board.  Good call, as they netted their first Oscar since leaving Miramax and founding their own company in 2005.  What The King's Speech did was take a story that would perhaps on the surface seem stuffy and dull, then present it in an outstanding and interesting fashion, sprinkled with some humor and sentiment, just enough of each.  The story in question is that of King George VI, who had a horrible stutter, yet was expected to rule the empire and give speeches on this new technology called radio.  Siedler discovered how the King began to work with a speech therapist and began writing a screenplay for this in the 1980's, but at the request of the Queen Mother (King George VI's widow), postponed working on this until after her death.  When she passed in 2002, Siedler eventually went back to the project.  Eventually, through excellent casting and execution, this film was somewhat-quietly released in the autumn of 2010 and wound up riding a wave of popularity all the way to the Kodak Theater on Oscar night.  Let's dive in.


The film opens in 1925.  King George V (Michael Gambon) is the reigning king of England and the British Empire.  He asks his son, Prince Albert (Colin Firth), to give a speech to the public at a London exhibition.  It does not go well, to say the least.  Albert stutters and stammers horribly.  The crowd sits and listens while squirming uncomfortably.  What makes this even more embarrassing for Albert and the Empire is that the speech is being broadcast worldwide over the radio airwaves.

Albert's wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), brings in a number of speech therapists to try and cure Albert of the stammering, but none are successful via their antiquated methods.  Elizabeth learns of an Australian speech therapist and pays him an office visit, calling herself Mrs. Johnson.  This therapist is Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), who is very casual in and about his work and his overall being.  He doesn't have a secretary, and the office is rather nondescript.  He likes to keep things simple.  Elizabeth states Lionel would have to come to their residence, but Lionel says he doesn't make house calls, adamantly stating the therapy sessions would need to be done here.  Elizabeth decides she needs to come clean and states who she really is, and her husband needing the therapy is the Duke of York.  Lionel pays respect but apologetically states the sessions would still need to be here so he could comfortably ply his trade.  Elizabeth is impressed with Lionel's manner and decides to book a tryout visit.

Back at home, Albert tells a bedtime story to his two daughters Princess Elizabeth (Freya Wilson) and Princess Margaret (Ramona Marquez), stuttering only at times.  Afterwards, he and Elizabeth talk about Albert's older brother David (Guy Pearce).  David is having a romance with a married and soon-to-be-twice-divorced Wallis Simpson (Eve Best), and there is great concern for the future of the throne as a result, as David is set to be the king down the line.  Lionel is meanwhile trying out for a role in a play he has performed in the past, but the director rather snidely tells him they're looking for someone younger.

Begrudgingly, Albert accompanies his wife to Lionel's office.  A child comes out of the office and tells "Mr. Johnson" he can go in now as Lionel is expecting him.  The kid then calls to Lionel asking how that was, and Lionel steps out saying it was very good.  The child leaves and Lionel says the kid couldn't speak a lick before coming here.  Elizabeth stays in the lobby while Albert and Lionel go into the office.  Both men are aware that Lionel knows who Albert actually is, but Lionel keeps things casual as he says in this room, they're both equals, telling Albert to call him Lionel.  Lionel asks what he should call Albert, and he gets back formal responses, which Lionel says won't do.  Lionel says how about he call him "Bertie", which is a nickname.  Albert recoils, saying only his family calls him that.  Lionel says "Exactly."  Albert lights up a cigarette, but Lionel tells him not to do that in here, contradicting the advice of Albert's doctor who says smoking clears the vocal cords.  They talk somewhat tensely, with Albert still a bit put off by the casual nature of Lionel.  Lionel bets Albert a shilling that before he leaves today, he'll speak clearly without stammering.  Lionel has Albert read a portion of Hamlet.  Albert stammers horribly.  Lionel then has Albert put on headphones and listen to loud music while reciting the same portion.  We don't hear the result, just the music, and after a minute or so Albert tears off the headphones and proclaims it's useless to continue trying.  He also doesn't want to hear the recording played back.  Lionel does tell him to take the recording home just the same, just as a memento.

King George V continues to try and get Albert used to public speaking.  After delivering the 1934 Christmas radio address, he states to Albert that David will bring ruin to the throne and the country because he insists on marrying that woman.  He feels England is in trouble, what with Hitler and Stalin running amok elsewhere.  Albert tries in vain to read the speech but cannot do so, especially not with his father yelling for him to work on it.  Later, Albert angrily yells to himself while retrieving the recording he made in Lionel's office, expecting to hear him stammer uncontrollably in the playback.  Instead, we hear Albert give the Hamlet speech perfectly with not so much as a pause.  Elizabeth hears this as well.

Albert and Elizabeth are back in Lionel's office the next day.  The first thing Lionel asks is if Albert brought the shilling.  (He didn't.)  They're willing to continue therapy but they want things to simply be business, no personal stuff.  Albert and Lionel meet daily, performing speech and physical exercises to loosen up his speech pattern.  Elizabeth also willingly takes part to aid her husband.  Albert improves slowly but gradually.

King George V's health is in decline with dementia also setting in.  David returns to the residence and tells Albert he thinks it's typical of his father to die too early, saying he's doing it on purpose because of his disapproval of Wallis Simpson.  One night while at dinner, the family learns that George V has died in his bed.  David is now the king, even though he really does not want to be.  He sobs in his mother's arms, much to the chagrin of her and everyone else witnessing this.

Albert visits Lionel the next day.  Lionel is surprised, not expecting him to have come today because of his father's passing.  They have a drink together.  Albert admires the in-progress model airplane on a table that one of Lionel's sons is working on.  He used to work on model airplanes as a child.  Albert confides in Lionel his concerns about David as the king, but he stammers a bit while doing so.  Lionel tells him to sing what he wants to say.  Albert does so, stammer-free.  As he continues to sing/speak without difficulty, Lionel "rewards" Albert with allowing him to work on the model airplane.  Albert admits that as a kid, he was mercilessly teased by his father and even one of the nannies, who adored David but hated him.  Albert is even left-handed but was punished into learning to use his right hand.  Lionel and Albert decide they need a second drink.

We're next at a holiday party at Balmoral Castle in Scotland.  Albert and Elizabeth arrive.  They are greeted by Wallis, and Elizabeth blows her off, saying they are attending at the request of the king.  She walks away.  Albert does his best to politely thank her for the invite.  Elizabeth and Winston Churchill (Timothy Spall) talk at the window, and Churchill agrees with Elizabeth's feelings about who should have greeted them.  Albert confronts David--now King Edward VIII--and states that he's well aware he cannot marry Wallis.  King Edward, in response, accuses his brother of trying to get revenge for the bullying that Albert suffered as a child, pushing him off the throne.  Albert responds by stuttering uncontrollably, and King Edward then mocks him before returning to the party with a freshly-opened bottle of champagne in the arms of Wallis.

The next day in Lionel's office, Albert talks about what happened.  He stammers horribly around his brother, worse then in any other environment.  In talking about it, Albert gets angry and stammers.  Lionel notices that Albert is doing his best not to swear, so he encourages Albert to do so.  In time, Albert lets fly a series of profanities, never stammering once in the process or afterwards.  Lionel decides they should go get some fresh air and take a walk.  During the walk, Albert says no one wants to see his brother as King more than he does.  In the process, he infers that he doesn't want to be the king, which is what would happen if his brother gives up the throne, which is what will HAVE to happen because he's marrying Wallis.  Lionel tells Albert he could be the king and he'd be a great one, telling him this in an attempt to comfort and encourage Albert.  He even puts his hand on Albert's shoulder.  This causes Albert to explode into an angry tirade, insulting Lionel's position versus his own.  Albert leaves, lighting up a cigarette.

Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (Roger Parrott) tells Albert what he already knows...if David continues with this Wallis Simpson affair, he would have to give up the throne.  Churchill later states to Albert that he should start thinking of what he would want to call himself, inferring to his name as King of England.  Meanwhile, Lionel and his wife Myrtle (Jennifer Ehle) talk about a patient who has obviously upset Lionel.  She doesn't know Lionel is working with Albert.  Lionel says he may have overstepped his boundaries with this patient.  Myrtle tells him he should just apologize.  Lionel attempts to do so, visiting the royal palace but being turned away.

King Edward VIII makes a radio speech officially abdicating the throne.  Albert is now King, and when presenting a speech to government officials, he's back to heavily stammering.  When he returns home, his daughters curtsy and greet the new king.  Elizabeth asks him how the speech went, and he says nothing.  He later breaks down in the bedroom, saying he's not a king.  Elizabeth consoles him.  She says she had turned down his initial two marriage proposals because she didn't feel the royal life was for her, yet here she is, and here they are.

Albert and Elizabeth decide they should visit Lionel, and they do so at his home.  He offers tea to Elizabeth, and she accepts but says she'll pour it herself, and then sends the men off to the next room to work out their differences and clear the air.  The first thing Albert does is give Lionel his overdue shilling.  Both men admit blame, with Albert saying he knew what Lionel was trying to say and the manner he was trying to say it was not meant to be disrespectful.  Lionel apologized for going about it the wrong way.  Albert spoke about still struggling around his brother, and in his new position.  Lionel said Albert is his own man now--King George VI--and he can let his father and his brother go in his mind.  Myrtle arrives at the home and is stunned to find Elizabeth sitting at the table, who kindly greets her.  Lionel hears that Myrtle has come home and wants to stay hidden, admitting to Albert he never told Myrtle about this arrangement.  Finally, Albert convinces him to introduce everyone officially.  Myrtle does so, still completely stunned.

Preparations are underway at Westminster Abbey for the official coronation.  Archbishop Lang (Derek Jacobi) walks Albert through the process of what will happen and who will be where.  Albert tells Lang that he wants Lionel to be seated in the royal box with his family.  Lang is taken aback by the suggestion but acquiesces to Albert's wishes.  However, he also has Lionel looked into since he was not officially appointed by the royals to be his speech therapist.  It is discovered Lionel is not a doctor as Albert believed.  Albert confronts Lionel about this, and Lionel tells how he came from Australia, helped soldiers after the war and wound up setting up his practice here in England.  He never claimed to be a doctor, simply a speech therapist.  Albert continues to object until he turns around and sees Lionel sitting in the sacred St. Edward's Chair.  The ensuing exchange sets to rest any last remaining doubt or concern that Albert has about himself as the king, or Lionel as his speech therapist.

Moments after this exchange, Archbishop Lang tells Lionel he can leave now and an official therapist will aid the King from here on out.  Albert intervenes and tells Lang that Lionel will stay, and that's final.  Lang accepts the edict.

That evening, the family are watching a newsreel that includes news on Adolf Hitler's continuing march across Europe.  The younger Elizabeth asks Albert who that man is and what he's saying.  Albert says he doesn't know what he's saying, but he certainly is saying it well based on the crowd response.  However, Prime Minister Chamberlain turns in his resignation the next day, apologetically so to Albert, saying he believed that Hitler meant well, but now the truth is evident as to what is happening across Europe.  Winston Churchill was right all along about Hitler, and he will be the next PM.

England goes to war with Germany, and a speech is deemed necessary from the King to his constituents across the world to boost morale and soothe their fears.  Lionel is whisked to the palace and he prepares Albert after well-wishes from Churchill, Chamberlain and many others.  Albert works on the speech utilizing tricks and exercises he learned from Lionel, including spouting off some profanities now and then to keep the tongue rolling.  Finally, the time comes for the speech.  Moments before the microphone turns on, Albert thanks Lionel and says he has no idea how to repay him.  Lionel jokingly suggests knighthood.

3...2...1...microphone is live to worldwide radio.  Albert begins to speak with Lionel guiding and "conducting".  Albert speaks slowly but deliberately, never stammering once.  By the time Albert is halfway through the speech, he's managing his nervousness with complete control.  The speech is a success.  Both Albert and Lionel are congratulated by everyone, including Archbishop Lang.  Albert thanks Lionel a second time, but this time publicly in front of his family, Lang and others.  They exchange a close handshake, with Albert calling Lionel his friend and Lionel calling him Your Majesty.  Elizabeth even thanks Lionel, using his first name for the first time.  The royal family waves to their public from the balcony as Lionel proudly watches.

Title cards tell us the epilogue:  "King George VI made Lionel Logue a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order in 1944.  This high honour from a grateful king made Lionel part of the only order of chivalry that specifically rewards acts of personal service to the Monarch.  Lionel was with the King for every wartime speech.  Through his broadcasts, George VI became a symbol of national resistance.  Lionel and Bertie remained friends for the rest of their lives."


When the script was first delivered to Geoffrey Rush, who producers hoped would take the role, it was actually delivered firsthand to his house, which is a severe breach of etiquette in the movie business.  Nonetheless, Rush accepted the script, read it, liked it and signed on.  Rush's agent and business manager both seemed more upset about the breach than Rush himself did.....Nine weeks before filming was to begin, the actual diary of Lionel Logue in which he wrote about the sessions with Albert was discovered along with many other documents, including personal correspondence between Albert and Lionel.  The script was rewritten in some places to include actual quotes from the diary, such as after the climactic speech where Lionel told Albert he's still wavering on the "W"'s and Albert replied that he had to throw in a few of those so his public would know it was really him.....Colin Firth won an Oscar for this role.  He wasn't the first choice for the part, though.  He wasn't even the second.  Paul Bettany, and then Hugh Grant both turned it down.  Firth was then contacted and he read for the role, and both Siedler and Hooper immediately knew they had their Albert.....Lionel's real-life grandson lauded the portrayal of his grandfather but insisted on BBC Radio that Lionel absolutely never called Albert "Bertie".  Several historians seem to agree with that proclamation.....Three English kings are portrayed in the movie.  King George V is played by Irish-born Gambon, King Edward VIII by Australian-born Pearce and finally King George VI by English-born Firth.....Timothy Spall probably does the best Winston Churchill I've ever seen, and in 2010 he actually played Churchill in both this film and a second one called Jackboots on Whitehall.  He again portrayed Churchill during the opening ceremonies of the 2012 London Olympics.....Seidler's Oscar win for this film made him, at age 73, the oldest winner in history of a screenplay Oscar.....The film's R-rating is solely because of the scene where Albert, in a speech therapy exercise, rattles off a string of profanities, including multiple F-bombs.  There was much objection to this rating by the Weinsteins and many critics including Roger Ebert, but the MPAA denied all protests and kept the film as rated R.....Queen Elizabeth II, the real-life daughter of King George VI who is portrayed as a young child in the movie, was sent two copies of the film before Christmas of 2010, and she watched it during a private screening at Sandringham House, a private residence of hers.  Her reaction was stated to be that she was "touched by a moving portrayal of her father."  Seidler and Hooper thought this response was the highest honor the film could possibly ever receive.

The film, a critical and commercial smash, had plenty of awards buzz going into 2011.  It scored seven Golden Globe nominations, the most of any film, but was only victorious in the Best Lead Actor--Drama category (Firth).  The Social Network took home the top Globe.  This made pundits wonder if the film had lost all of its Oscar buzz.  That proved not to be the case as the film scored 12 Oscar nominations, the most of any film once again.  Would lightning strike twice?  It was surely looking that way, because the first 8 categories it was up for that were presented, The King's Speech lost every one of them.  Those were Original Score, Sound Mixing, Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing, Supporting Actor (Rush) and Supporting Actress (Carter).  Both of the acting losses were to performers from The Fighter.  Most of the other losses were to Inception or The Social Network, and that latter title seemed to be the favorite to cap off this Oscar night with a win as the ceremony went on.

Oh, but you know this is the Best Picture Showcase, so that means I'm writing about films that won Best Picture, so indeed, the wins started to come.  While The King's Speech took home "only" four Oscars, they were all in "Big 5" categories: Original Screenplay (Seidler), Lead Actor (Firth), Director (Hooper) and Picture.  That Best Picture win was impressive too, because the list of nominated movies is very strong.  Other films nominated were Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, 127 Hours, The Social Network, Toy Story 3, True Grit and Winter's Bone.  This was the first Oscars ceremony to be interactive via social media.  This was the Oscars ceremony where Kirk Douglas returned to the stage.  This was the Oscars ceremony hosted by James Franco and Anne Hathaway, and I apologize for THAT memory.  My favorite movie of 2010 was True Grit, and I was excited to see it land 10 Oscar nominations.  It went home with not a single win, which was criminal, especially in regards to Hailee Steinfeld losing out to Melissa Leo.  I guess you can't have everything, but you can have a great film win Best Picture, and while it didn't "have my vote", a great film in The King's Speech DID win Best Picture.  It is just a wonderful movie in every aspect that doesn't dilute upon repeated viewings.  Long live the King!

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