Sunday, January 16, 2011

Fit for a King

It's wonderful when a film encounters the perfect storm - a  finely crafted script filled with drama and comedy, impeccable performances and period perfect sets and costumes. The King's Speech is such a film. 

The true story of the relationship between "Bertie" a.k.a. the future King George VI of England (Colin Firth) and his eccentric speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), The King's Speech is set in  thirties London as the country is on the brink of war. Production designer Eve Stewart  designed two worlds -- the colorful palatial residences of the Royals (toned down to reflect the times) contrasted with the gritty Depression influenced interiors of the commoners.

Much of the film's scenes take place in  Logue's offices where Bertie uncomfortably received unorthodox treatments to cure his stammer. Filmed at 33 Portland Place in London, the actual space was similar to that of a Venetian palace mixed with an artists's studio. I was particularly intrigued by the walls which looked like some sort of distressed faux treatment. The original walls consisted of peeling wallpaper and treated with oil. Stewart liked the effect and reproduced the look for the entire room, creating an autumnal colored fresco that became the focal point. Little furniture was required, placing more audience focus on the actors. For authenticity, Stewart studied Logue's actual diaries and researched interiors at the Victoria and Albert Museum and Geffrye museum of interior design. 

A distressed wall becomes the focal point of Logue's office

Working on a tight budget, period locations were the key element. The production team created the opulence of Buckingham Palace at Lancaster House in the St. James district in London's West End. Considered one of the finest townhouses in London (Queen Victoria was said to have quipped upon arrival "I have come from my House to your Palace"), the ornate decor was the perfect backdrop as the royals nervously await Bertie's first wartime broadcast in the opulent gilt panelled state drawing room.   It was also used as the royal residence for the films National Secrets and Young Victoria.

On location at Lancaster House

Lancaster Hall was previously known as Stafford House
Shown here is the Grand Hall, Joseph Nash, 1850

King George VI (Colin Firth)  and Queen Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter)

Meticulous research  --  right down to the actual microphones -- was required for the film. 

Costume designer Jenny Beavan faced the same budget restrictions of designing a royal wardrobe on a pauper's budget. After surveying "massive amounts of photos"and newsreels of the real King and Queen, Beavan decided to dress Bonham Carter in muted colors with two important fashion details -- the Queen always tipped her hat at an angle and loved a touch of fur.

The actual Queen Mum

The King's Speech Costume Exhibit

I fully expect the film to be nominated for Best Art Direction and Costume categories as well as Best Picture at this year's Oscars. It's a must see film on many levels.

Photo Credits: The Weinstein Company