Leeds Film Festival 2010: Day 1

It be festival time again!

Leeds is consistently the best, most popular, and most extensive film festival that is anywhere close to me and I am fortunate indeed that it's somewhere that's easy to reach after a hard days work. As usual, I will be watching a wodge of films and blogging about them day by day, although not quite as mental as last year because due to certain holidays I may have mentioned elsewhere, I have no holiday time left to take off. A semi-sensible 50 films is my target this time.

Tonights' opening gala was held at the Leeds Town Hall, and featured a single film, The King's Speech, which I'll get onto in a minute. Before that though, the nearly 1000-strong crowd of festival-goers shuffled in and sat in the slightly wobbly and uncomfortable seats in front of a newly added and very large projection screen. The town hall had been a new venue last year with a few films being shown at it, and though it was a nice change, the seats, mixed with the less than impressive screen and worst of all, some terrible acoustics, spoiled the experience somewhat.

They had addressed the concerns a little bit this time; a new sound system was in, and the screen instead of being back against the pipe organ at the back had been brought forward a bit. Before the screening started, we were also treated to organiser Chris Fell introducing the festival and showing a 'preview reel' of some of the highlights. Unfortunately this turned into something of a sound test; it was so loud it was just distorted noise for one trailer in particular. Fortunately they turned it down a bit for the main feature.

The Kings Speech (UK/Aus) (wiki)

Navel-gazing favourite Colin Firth (last seen in 2008's Genova) made good of his Englishness to play Albert, Duke of York in 1930's Britain, as his father George V was wobbling on his perch and his brother, Edward, who was in line for kingdom if it wasn't for his infatuation with the married Mrs Simpson, all set against the backdrop of the escalating war situation.

Albert has a debilitating speech impediment, causing prolonged stuttering whenever he talks to anyone. Predictably, the opening scene of his inaugural speech to the nation does not go down well. Albert's resourceful wife Elizabeth (played by Helena Bonham Carter, a part playable by no-one else once you've seen her) tracks down a respected but low-profile speech therapist Lionel Logue and despite initial hostilities, Albert can see through his own bullishness that Lionel's unconventional tricks might just help where so many others have failed.

Despite being a semi-factual biopic of a monarch set in starched and pressed 1930's Britain, The King's Speech has a good selection of funny and touching moments; our close-camera view of Albert's struggle with even the simplest sentences early on give us enough empathy to mean we follow through the therapies and the inevitable speech at the end word by laboured word. Of particular enjoyment are the simple but well-crafted dialogues between Lionel and 'Bertie', the therapist leading the monarch unknowingly through the learning process despite his short-tempered outbursts brought on as Bertie finds a royal lineage holds no sway in the therapy room.

If you like the thought of a cleverly made and dialogue-driven two hours of a small but important tragedy in one man's life, and you don't mind that nothing is blown up and all the women are wearing several layers of clothing, then I fully recommend worth going to see it when it is released properly early next year. Look out for a rare glimpse of the very lovely Jennifer Ehle as Logue's wife as well. 8/10

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