The King’s Speech, how Australia saved the day

The King’s Speech was originally written as a two-man play and as such would probably still be brilliant. The two men are Colin Firth as Bertie, the future King George VI, and Geoffrey Rush as Lionel Logue, the Australian speech therapist with unusual methods.

The characters are well written with insightful and witty dialogue that fleshes out their background and emotional constraints. It’s a great writer that can bring together such a small event as a stammer and David Seidler explores the psychology of how it grows from a personal trauma to a need to overcome it in order to support a whole nation, at wartime nonetheless. The personal becomes horrendously public and Iain Canning one of the producers even quoted Seinfeld’s observation about the fear of public speaking being so great, that at a funeral, most people would rather be in the coffin than giving the eulogy. The quotation rang true, the storyline worked brilliantly and the humour was well done. Very clever.

Unfortunately, the producers took this well written script and embellished the production with such an overloaded cast of characters that some of the lustre was scraped away from its focus. Helena Bonham Carter was the Queen, Peter Pettigrew from Harry Potter was Churchil, Derek Jakobi the Archbishop, Princess Margaret was the little girl from Outnumbered, Guy Pearce the two dimensional King who only had Wallace Simpson on his mind, and Jennifer Ehle, the award winning actress, who once played Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth, was the Australian wife of Lionel. An inside joke, smiled one of the producers.

The production cost US $15 millions and most of the money was spent on the cast. Talk about gilding the lily. The supporting characters were not written to bear well under the spotlight of such fame. The shallow characterisation of the Australian wife was horribly fawning over the royals and simplistic in its execution. Why they needed a well known actress to play a role with fewer than 20 lines and mostly keep a placid and blank expression on her face, I’ll never know. Each well known supporting actor drew away some of the limelight which would have been better focused on the two men who led the performance.

While I enjoyed the sight of an Australian being King, and rejecting it all wholeheartedly, I just don’t think it justified the casting choices. Admittedly, it will probably be the over-casting that will give it the publicity to succeed at the award ceremonies rather than see it relegated to BBC4 as a high quality drama.

The movie is released in January 2011 in the UK.

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