Thursday, 20 September 2012

The King's Speech: The Point of View Shot


The King's Speech (2010) has received a lot of critical praise for it's performers (Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham-Carter) and the first time I watched it, I myself was touched by the performances given by the leading actors. But on watching the film for the third time recently, I found my attention was drawn to the camera work and primarily, the use of the point of view shot.

Most of you who come across this blog will be familiar with the point of view shot, or the POV shot. For those of you who aren't, it is basically when the camera films in the place of the character - where we see what they are seeing from their perspective (as if we for a moment are their eyes watching). The King's Speech uses this technique to great effect by director Tom Hooper, and I will discuss how they are used well in the beginning and final scenes of the film.

Instantly with the film starting we are given our first example of the POV. There has been barely any dialogue yet, and unless you have read about the plot of the film, you don't know what the film is about. So, as an audience, we see the familiar face of Colin Firth, and here he is playing King George VI, (at this moment in the narrative he is still Prince Albert). Anyhow, we see a rather glum looking Prince is walking through some tunnels and eventually comes to some stairs. We already get the feeling that he seems a bit reluctant to ascend the stairs ahead of him, and with begrudging look he continues this trek to - we don't know where. The camera now cuts to a POV of the stairs, and the camera moves as the Prince moves, up and up until we reach an opening with a microphone in the middle, but as the camera moves higher, a stadium filled will thousands of people comes into view. As an audience, we understand that the Prince is to give a public speech of some sort, but as we see every single face of the thousand's in the crowd, turn to face him, this sudden feeling of stage fright overcomes us. We've all had to stand up and speak in front of people before whether it be in a school presentation or something, but that many people is a shocker, and as the audience you feel slightly on show. Of course, we know that this is the Prince and he should have no problems delivering a speech. But when the camera cuts back to the Prince, the feelings we felt are mirrored in his face except his face is filled with fear and discomfort. The little red light flashing and then going steady to show that he is now live on air is also shown via a POV. The use of these images creates this sense of pressure: you are the prince, here are your subjects, here is your speech, and now you are live on the radio. When the Prince can barely get a word out, we understand that he clearly has a problem with not only speaking publicly, but speaking generally - he stammers. This scene really sets the tone and feel for the picture, and solidifies our understanding of just how big a problem the Prince has, especially in relation to his job as Prince. By using the POV shot we see how the Prince feels completely on show, under pressure, and alone, regardless of his wife next to him, when his job requires him to speak publicly - he simply cannot do it. In many ways, this opening scene resembles that nightmare we have all had of turning up to school nude and every one is staring at you laughing, except this time the nightmare is a Prince being unable to speak to his people, leaving for an awkward and deafening silence in the stadium.

From my analysis and the screen caps used above we have seen how the POV shot was used to set the scene of the film, to help us understand how the Prince was when his fear was strong and all treatment for the problem had failed. Now we are going to look at the closing scenes of the film, when Prince Albert is now King George VI, and his treatment from speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) has not only helped him overcome this problem, but also reveal the underlying personal issues that began the stammer in the first place. It is the day after war has been declared on Germany, and the new King has to make a speech to his subjects about the upcoming hardships they will have to endure again. This speech is of huge important, for the country needs to be lead by it's King, and for that to be done he must deliver regular radio broadcasts that will lift the morale of the nation and let them know that they are not alone. So, how does Hooper makes this scene effective technically?

Once Bertie is in the room where he will give his radio broadcast with Lionel. Instead of a cold, open stadium, the setting is a small little room decorated with drapes - very cosy. We have a close-up of Bertie looking petrified and anxious with the microphone almost totally covering his face - he has no escape from the radio, he has to do this for his people. And now arrives our trusty device, the camera cuts to a POV shot of Lionel smiling, reading to conduct Bertie through his demons and through this speech - to lead him to victory. There are no crowds here, there is no open space, but instead a friendly face. The only friend Bertie has ever actually had. It's the same camera set-up with the same Prince except now he is King and now he has help. By using the same framework he used at the beginning of the picture, Hooper is showing us how much changed for Bertie and how much he has progressed since that cold day. Of course, this is followed by an inspiring speech, which by the way Lionel stop conducting Bertie have way through the speech. He does it all by himself.

It is a beautiful moment in cinema and a hugely moving one, especially when it is based on a true story. To watch this film as a Brit, knowing the truth behind it, I couldn't help but feel proud and patriotic about our former King overcoming all of his demons to do the job he didn't choose, but was given to do.

As a whole this film is really worth watching because it just sheds a completely different light on the Royal family. I don't want to debate about the Royal's, I actually like them, but sometimes we always think how come they get to be born into luxury and greatness. Why are they given that right? But the truth is sure they live in luxury and wear nice things, but they don't have a choice and this film highlights that. Prince Albert hated public speaking, he was very self-conscious, and never expected to be King, but when his brother abdicated he had no choice. He got on with it because it was his job. Could you honestly say that if you were a Prince and suddenly you had to become King and all the pressure was on you to lead your country to victory in a war against Nazi Germany that you would welcome it? You probably couldn't be bothered - let someone else do it! That's what we would probably say. Helena Bonham-Carter plays the Queen Mother in the picture (wonderfully too) and in one scene she tells of why she turned down Bertie the first two times he proposed - because she didn't want to live a life that wasn't her own, and it's true. She gained a lot from the marriage, a lovely family, a lovely homes, things that we could only ever dream to afford, but she did give up her freedom to do as she wanted. She had a duty to the public from the day she married Albert and that was that. This film really adds a human side to the Royal family - as Bertie says in the film whilst driving through town and looking at the common man, 'they know so little about me and I so little about them.' To us, the Royal family seem like such divine beings, but in this film we see a normal family, with two loving parents and their two lovely daughters. The father tells his children a bedtime story, the mother supports her husband with the troubles he encounters. This all sounds very familiar to families of our own doesn't it?

I think my favourite moment in the film is the finale when the King has delivered his speech magnificently, and he and his family step out onto the balcony of Buckingham Palace. Another POV shot is used here showing the enormous crowds of people cheering on the Royal Family - the family that will lead them to victory, and who the public will look to for hope. It's a lot of pressure to be looking at too - so many people all depending on you. But the cheers and waves from the crowd welcome the family to their new home in Buckingham Palace, and those waves are reciprocated as the camera cuts to the family themselves, smiling and waving to their people. It's a beautiful moment that is shot exquisitely by Hooper.

The King's Speech is quite simply - a masterpiece. Loaded with hilarious moments between Rush and Firth, as well as many heartbreaking moments too, it is a wonderful journey that everybody should take part in. It truly is so beautifully shot, so magnificently acted, and so wonderfully moving, that you cannot miss it. You will fall in love with the film - the music and the scenery just throws you back to that era. I love the way most of the film is shot in cold or dreary weather conditions, mirroring the looming gloom of troubled times ahead.  It is a new classic in the film pantheon, and is without a doubt one of the greatest pictures I have ever seen.

P.S. If you look at the picture above of the scene where Lionel falls out with Bertie, was anyone else reminded of the final scene in The Third Man (1949)? I couldn't help but notice the similarity, it must have been a homage from Hooper!


  1. Thanks for this inspiring review Claudia! Unfortunately, I'm not as trained as you to detect proper mise-en-scène so that disables me from understanding a film at times! But ever since reading your reviews here, I'm more and more keen on knowing more about how films are crafted by directors. I now try to detect POVs, the power of lighting, editing and sounds and you reviews have helped me so much!!!! I'd love to see your take on Shame, can't wait for that! Tons of love!!! xoxo Fanny

    1. It's fairly simple Steph. You have probably noticed it in films but never really dwelled on those thoughts before. I'm happy that you're learning from my posts - at least someone is :) I shall reply to your email by Monday xxx