"The King's Speech" is the second Royal movie by composer Alexandre Desplat, since he also scored (and was similarly oscar-nominated for) "The Queen" in 2006. Of course there is an endless fascination with the Royal family, particularly this year with a Royal Wedding in preparation. At the time of writing "The King's Speech" has already won many awards and the Oscars are just around the corner, so the film is receiving a lot of media attention. Although "The King's Speech" has a distinctive Royal setting, at its core it is a drama about a man overcoming his own personal demons. A key ingredient to the movie's success is the character interplay between the King-to-be "Bertie" (Colin Firth) and his eccentric speech therapist "Lionel" (Geoffrey Rush), and the excellent characterisation from the lead actors carries the film.
When it came to the music soundtrack director Tom Hooper (The Damned United) had selected some Classical Music for key moments towards the end of the film. He wanted the soundtrack to keep to the tone of those pieces, and he liked Desplat's ability to score films in a complex ambiguous way, giving an audience space to interpret the meaning and thoughts of the characters portrayed in the movie. Desplat's score does this with ease. The music is appropriately dignified when required, but it is far from aloof. Desplat uses a light touch which brings a warmth to the events and helps the audience identify with the characters.
The album kicks off with the majestic "Lionel and Bertie" (speech therapist and King) where Desplat cleverly ties in with the later classical tracks by a subtle reference to the slow movement of Beethoven's 5th Piano Concerto. This also sets the tone for the soundtrack which mostly uses piano and strings. "The King's Speech" provides the film's main theme on piano with pizzicato and later bowed strings. As a melody it is not melodramatic but has a powerful simplicity which the composer develops in a number of ways. Then in "My Kingdom, My Rules" the composer starts with a short melody on a single note of the piano supported by string chords, and very literally the hesitant piano figure suggests Bertie's stuttering while the strings might suggest the support he gets from his wife Elizabeth and speech therapist Lionel. Although hardly noticeable, this repeated piano note recurs in a number of tracks
"The King is Dead" is a solemn but beautiful lament on strings for the death of Bertie's father King George V (played by Michael Gambon). Although this was a family tragedy it also means that Bertie is one step closer to the throne, and "Memories of Childhood" continues the solemn tone suggesting events in his childhood which may have contributed to his stutter. After the abdication of his older brother as King Edward VIII, Bertie becomes "King George VI" in late 1936 and the music brings out his dread of assuming office with all the public speaking that this entails. The return of the main theme in "The Royal Household" raises the mood as the King and his Queen Elizabeth (later to become the Queen Mother) enjoy family life with their daughters the young Elizabeth and Margaret. "The Rehearsal" for his first and most important radio broadcast is the lightest track on the album and brings in woodwind and horns. While the King deals with his personal troubles, political tensions are growing in Europe, and "The Threat of War" drips with tension in those months when it seemed that war was inevitable. There is a minimalist string ostinato with discordant melodic fragments while the repeating note maintains its occasional presence.
As explained in the notes to the soundtrack album, the tone of all the recordings was given the musical equivalent of a very subtle sepia tint by using the original EMI microphones used to record Royal Broadcasts. The final three tracks (of music by Beethoven and Mozart) were rrecorded especially for the film, with Terry Davies conducting the London Symphony Orchestra. The CD album is available at these links: Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com. Sheet Music has also now been published of music from "The King's Speech". The book is for piano solo with 14 tracks just like the soundtrack CD: 11 tracks by Alexandre Desplat, and arrangements of two tracks by Beethoven and one by Mozart. It is available from this link at Music Room.
You can find out more about the British Monarchy on the official website at www.royal.gov.uk including an historic timeline which helps to put the film's background into context. The further links below contain more information about those monarchs who reigned during the events depicted in this drama: