Directed By: Tom Hooper
Starring: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter
The King’s Speech is a majestic tale set in a world of buttoned-up repression and austere buildings that creak as much as their inhabitants.
Tom Hooper’s direction is confident and explicit. There is little subtext beyond the obvious contrast with our current royal family and the media control over their lives. Opting for reflection rather than display, plus no doubt hampered by a minuscule budget, costume designer Jenny Beavan speculates the 1925–39 setting rather than recreates it. For example, Colin Firth as frustrated King George VI, or ‘Bertie’ to those he held dear, was a Naval officer, a conformist fond of plain starched collars, yet here he occasionally wears fine stripes, even his overcoat remains unbelted at one point.
Firth is in control, somewhat overweight for the character but making the most of a sensational part, while Geoffrey Rush is restrained as Bertie’s everyman speech therapist Lionel. Most impressive is Helena Bonham Carter, quietly embodying Queen Elizabeth. Padded with a tummy and large bosom, a string of pearls and genuine vintage wool coats trimmed in fur; the actress’ tiny hands encased in custom made leather gloves, protecting this regal yet accessible woman from the stain of the ‘real world’. The film constantly awaits her next appearance.
Perhaps even more interesting from a costume standpoint is Guy Pearce as Bertie’s brother David (aka. Edward VIII). A fashion revolutionist, particularly in America, David is marginalised, albeit subtly, on screen in plaid and his trademark Glencheck. Moreover his soon to be wife Wallis Simpson (played by Eve Best) is carefully framed in contrast to conventional Bertie, her plunging rear neckline and Van Cleef & Arpels necklace (Beavan commissioned a copy) reflecting the 1930s vogue for an exposed back.
The broad definition of David and Wallis as rogues is somewhat cold. Quite apart from the historical truth, i.e. the couple’s apparent sympathy for the Nazi command, in a narrative context Bertie had enough to contend with his fear of failure alone. The real villain of the piece were the King’s own demons.
A tender contemplation then, on duty and the crippling weight of expectancy.
The King’s Speech is on general release now.
© 2011 – 2012, Christopher Laverty.