From the festival circuit’s most discussed films to experimental shorts, Cine-City reflects Brighton’s diversity. The proceedings opened last night with the suitably refined, and massively acclaimed, The King’s Speech (2010). I joined the packed audience at the Duke of York’s cinema, and was willingly charmed with free whiskey courtesy of Jameson, who were sponsoring the screening (sadly the free bar will not become a permanent feature), prior to the film.
The King’s Speech opens with Prince Albert, who would later become King George VI, humiliate himself before the British public on live radio, by stammering through his closing speech at the British Empire Exhibition in 1925. His dread of public speaking threatens the nation’s future when his brother, King Edward VIII, abdicates, thrusting the crown onto Albert. After several reluctant attempts at therapy he meets unorthodox Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue, who helps him overcome his fears so he can guide Britain through theirs as World War II looms.
A deft balance between humour and drama propels a smooth momentum throughout, boosted by assured cinematic craftsmanship and superior performances. Colin Firth brilliantly captures Albert’s frustration, embarrassment and humanity, as well as the dignity he is forced to mask these with. His wife Elizabeth, played with sly confidence by Helena Bonham Carter, offers compassion and support throughout, and introduces him to Lionel, who is presented as jolly, slightly eccentric but inherently caring by Geoffrey Rush.
As Albert’s speech flows through singing and swearing profusely during thereapy, the absurdity of these uncharacteristic bursts of passion brims with jubilance. The torment Firth exudes ensures that comedy never derives from his stammer, and the film’s ability to switch seamlessly between humour and poignancy within these scenes continually impresses. The humour is well pitched throughout, often going as far as it can without overflowing into farce, although one especially frothy montage of Albert’s therapy risks bubbling over.
Albert’s sessions with Lionel offer welcome respite from his alienation. Shut away from the nation in lavish palaces where he is constantly shown dignity and respect, but rarely friendship, the sterility his stature can bring is evident. The richly adorned interiors in which most scenes occur dwarf Albert, teasing with vast empty spaces he is expected to fill. Exterior scenes are made uncomfortable through stripping away Albert’s protective confines. As he walks through a misty park with Lionel his temper boils as the therapist probes the recalcitrant royal’s inner feelings. Elsewhere, the panic felt during his early attempts at public speaking is accentuated as a terrified Albert is viewed through claustrophobic close-ups, the enveloping silence enforcing his sense of inadequacy. These speeches are haunted by the microphone’s intimidating presence in the foreground.
The pivotal cultural changes ushered in by the emergence of radio, a device which allows a whole nation to listen to one man, play a defining role in the story, while footage of Hitler’s speeches remind us of cinema’s integral role in such changes. The appropriateness of The King’s Speech opening Cine-City therefore stretches beyond Albert being the Duke of York before he was crowned, as the Duke of York’s cinema celebrates its centenary this year, so has been instrumental in these cultural shifts throughout its history. Key moments from local history are available in the festivals array of digital archive screenings, where footage ranges from films made in Brighton during cinema’s infancy, to material captured at last year’s White Night.
Many of the new films on show could themselves become landmarks in cinema’s history. While The King’s Speech is tipped to be a main contender come awards season, others have also been creating buzz. Never Let Me Go (2010) could snag some nominations, especially if performances from Carey Mulligan and Keira Knightley attract the same attention as previous ventures. Sofia Coppola is also no stranger to awards glory, and with Somewhere (2010) somewhat controversially awarded the Golden Lion at this years Venice Film Festival (Coppola’s ex, Quentin Tarintino, headed the jury), it could follow Lost In Translation’s (2003) Oscar success. Meanwhile, Of Gods and Men (2010), Biutiful (2010) and La Yuma (2009) are representing France, Mexico and Nicaragua respectively as entrants for the 2010 Foreign Language Film Oscar.
While plenty of the films at Cine-City have been mined from larger festivals, the characters in offbeat Finnish gem Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010) dig up something more obscure; Santa. This isn’t the jolly icon of Coca-Cola adverts though, but a bloodthirsty mythological beast. I caught this bizarre treat, which plays its premise surprisingly straight, on the tail end of FrightFest’s Halloween all-nighter, where my sleep-deprived self was gleefully swept away by the peculiar folklore, affable characters and elves highly skilled at decapitation.
Even rarer opportunities for those already jaded by awards buzz, festival prestige and anything with a white beard wearing a red coat are offered in Cine-City’s workshops, Q&As and short films. Two years ago at Cine-City I had my first encounter with the Brothers Quay’s uncanny stop motion animation, so am eager to catch their latest short, Maska (2009), at one of the festivals free screenings. There’s also much potential for discovery in the avant-garde strand of this year’s festival, ‘Dreaming in Colour’, which explores how colour has been used on screen. From experimental shorts to a screening of Derek Jarman’s Blue (1993) with a live remix of the audio, the evocative power of colour will be evident in many forms.
The festival ends on 5th December with Richard Ayoade’s anticipated debut Submarine (2010), which promises to capture a rather different side of Britain than that featured in The King’s Speech. The multiplexes might have Potter but, for the next few weeks, Cine-City will be casting the spells.
For more information visit http://www.cine-city.co.uk/