Often, a film festival’s opening movie may well set the tone, conveying a broad indication of the selection. Tom Hooper’s British drama, The King’s Speech, that heralded the seventh edition of the Dubai International Film Festival last evening seemed to indicate precisely this.
Having clinched eight British Academy of Film and Television Arts Awards, including one for Best Picture, The King’s Speech, is, but for a somewhat stagy look, a marvellous piece of entertainment, extremely well enacted, splendidly mounted and ably narrated. It certainly kept the huge audience here in thrall.
In desperation, George VI hires a speech therapist, Lionel Logue (brilliantly portrayed by Geoffrey Rush), to help get over his stutter and the resulting lack of confidence. As the clouds of conflict loom over Europe, the two men battle out inside their private chambers. Logue will not address George as His Majesty or Sir, and insists on calling him Bertie, as he is known to his family. The King is reluctant to play by the therapist’s rules.
The King’s Speech has many such moments that are both dramatic and poignant. In a telling scene, as his family watches a recorded speech of Hitler, fiercely mouthing a war cry in German, the King’s daughter asks him what the dictator is saying. George VI replies, “I do not know, but he is very good”.
Tipped to win several Oscar nods, The King’s Speech, by the fact that it actually happened reaches another level. And it could not have come at more apt period in British history, when the monarchy there is struggling to keep alive an image, bruised and battered in recent years by the Princess Diana scandals, Prince Charles’ remarriage to a divorcee (the church and Parliament now allow it) and the latest egg attack on the royal couple. With yet another wedding in the family coming, the British monarchy could well do with some cinematic plastic surgery.
The King’s Speech appears to fit that bill, and admirably. Here is a King, who battled his own private demons to lead his country through the dark and depressing days of war that maimed and murdered Britain. And, triumphed in the end. But he never really got over his stammer, though he learnt to cope with it.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is covering the Dubai International Film Festival)