2/12/10, The Hospital, Covent Garden
2 hrs. Preview of the new film about George VI and his Australian speech therapist, Lionel Logue: a fine piece of British heritage film-making and a hot tip for the Oscars. I'd just read the book by Logue's grandson Mark and the Sunday Times journalist Peter Conradi and (perhaps as a result) was slightly disappointed by the movie, despite the great praise it garnered at the London Film Festival.
The central performances (Colin Firth as the Duke of York/King, Geoffrey Rush as Logue) were strong. So too were Helena Bonham-Carter as the Duchess/Queen/Queen Mum and (perhaps surprising this) Guy Pearce as Edward VIII (even though the supposed older brother was played by the younger actor). But I didn't care for Michael Gambon's George V: the bullying was historically apt but he seemed to lack aristocratic polish. Claire Bloom was unrecognisable as Queen Mary. Anthony Andrews looked and moved like a waxwork as Baldwin. Derek Jacobi was implausibly reptilian as the Archbishop. Timothy Spall was frankly embarrassing as Churchill.
At times I drifted and played spot the location. The old Naval College at Greenwich stood in for wartime Whitehall, I think. I'm told Logue's distressed basement consulting room was in a house in Portland Place rented out for events and locations. The Duke's home at 145 Piccadilly was also a house in Portland Place. The Logue family home was in that tenement block behind Kings Cross which is often used for filming... and looked a very far cry from The Boltons where they actually lived in middle class comfort before moving to a rather grand villa in Sydenham.
And some of the compromises with historical truth needed to make a decent film irked me. The timescale is compressed, which is fair enough: everything happens between 1934 and 1939 in the film, whereas in fact Logue first treated the Duke in 1925 or 6. There's a nice scene in Westminster Abbey before the Coronation in which the king (who's been listening to the Archbishop and his scheming Establishment cronies) confronts Logue with his lack of qualifications, which allows Logue to respond with a bit of handy backstory about treating sufferers from World War One shellshock and never claiming to have qualifications because there weren't any for a new discipline he was helping to pioneer. There's another scene in which Logue starts asking the Duke about his childhood -- a primitive type of psychoanalysis, perhaps -- and meets resistance from the Duke which probably reflects reality. And the significance of the Duke's problems is emphasised by supposing that many more of his speeches were broadcast than was really the case and conjuring up a wonderful BBC control room with equipment cabinets carrying brass plates with the names of the countries of the empire to which they transmitted which had a certain bravura splendour.
But Logue is made out to be a failed actor. He calls the Duke "Bertie" whereas in reality he was always "Sir". And the Logues are shown as a good deal poorer than they were in reality. No doubt the aim is to emphasise the contrast between the privileged royals and the "common colonial" Logue, but the changes rather diminish Lionel as an historical figure.
What's more, to make sense of the Abdication crisis Edward VIII's supposed Fascist leanings are frequently referred to (I suspect no-one knew about them at the time and, if they did, those in the know were a good deal more perturbed by the religious question), and at one point a radio in the background carries what sounds like Abdication news when in reality it was all a terrible secret until the deed was agreed.
But looking back at that list I see there are many more positives than negatives (and I could have named several other positives) so no doubt I'm just being picky.