Screening for the first time in Los Angeles, The King’s Speech screened at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre as part of AFI Fest 2010, complete with director Tom Hooper and stars Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush. Screenwriter David Seidler, for whom the project is a true passion piece, the films producers, and the Weinsteins were also in attendance.
Tribute reels for Hooper, Firth and Rush (each met with laughter and applause, particularly Firth’s) were followed by a brief discussion moderated by Leonard Maltin before the film began. On American audience reception of this historical British film, Hooper insisted it was a very relatable story: “Deep in the DNA of the American story is standing up to the English King and saying, ‘We’ve had enough’…and this is another story of someone [in this case, one of its Kings] standing up to the English monarchy.” In working with his actors, Hooper says it was very satisfying to see “such interesting responses” to all the ideas that had been mulling in his mind. He called both Firth and Rush “fiercely bright, fiercely hard working.”
Firth admits there was a degree of intimidation in his approach to playing a great historical figure: “There are degrees of this, but there’s always a sense of responsibility playing someone like this. And King George VI was and is very loved.” Firth considers this “a story of consequence” that “takes place in the wings of history.”
In this story of how King George VI overcame his stutter and ascended from Duke of York to the throne (passing his less noble brother, played by Guy Pierce) with the help of a non-traditional Australian speech therapist (and occasional actor), Lionel Logue (Rush), Firth embodies the role on a very intimate scale, yet understands the ties between a King’s personal struggle as his country faced World War II. Firth pointed out both Mussolini and Hitler used rhetoric very effectively and to terrifying results. King George VI’s mastering of his own voice held significance in a very different way; “His very voice spoke of humility and struggle…[and] the fact that he didn’t want power at a time when other dictators were maniacal about it made him into a symbol of resistance throughout the war.”
It’s an underdog story, if you will, but set at the top of Britain’s social and political classes. You still root for him to overcome the pressures and hurdles in order to be a King, while hoping he’ll remain the same imperfect yet charming man. Firth, Rush, and Helena Bonham Carter score their own private masterpieces, the combination of which was met last night with much laughter and awe. Both Firth and Rush attended the after party, along with Carey Mulligan (who was part of the fest’s LAT Young Hollywood Roundtable earlier in the evening), Harvey Weinstein and Heather Graham.