The King's Speech | 2011
Heaps of well-deserved praise (not to mention awards and those Oscar nominations) for the performances and the witty script ensured serious box office success for Tom Hooper’s third feature, despite the adventurous visual style, with its oddly disjointed close-ups mirroring the Duke of York’s (Colin Firth) struggle to communicate.
The film kicks of with the then-Duke’s painful attempt to deliver the closing speech at the 1925 ‘Empire Exhibition’. This was held at the famous old Wembley Stadium – home of the FA Cup Final – which was bulldozed in 2003 to make way for the spanking new venue.
With the real Wembley out of the picture, the scene was filmed at two separate locations – both in West Yorkshire– a football stadium and a Rugby League ground. One venue was Elland Road Football Stadium (the home of Leeds United FC) in Leeds, where director Hooper had shot much of his previous film, The Damned United. The other was Odsal Stadium, Rooley Avenue, Queensbury (home of the Bradford Bulls), south of Bradford.
The BBC radio control room, with its acres of dials, from where the speech is broadcast around the world, is the old control centre of the disused Battersea Power Station, Wandsworth, London SW8, dominating the skyline on the south bank of the Thames opposite Pimlico. The monumental Thirties building, currently an empty shell, has proved a useful backdrop of ruined industrial grandeur in films such as Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight and Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus.
In London, the Duke and Duchess (Helena Bonham Carter) lived at ‘145 Piccadilly’, near Hyde Park Corner. The actual house was destroyed in a bombing raid during WWII, but the house seen in the film is 33 Portland Place, W1, a remarkable Robert Adam house, dating from 1775, which has had a colourful history – including once being home to the embassy of the Government of Sierra Leone.
Anxious to find a cure for her husband’s debilitating stammer, the Duchess, under the discreet alias of ‘Mrs Johnson’, visits speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) at his practice on London’s exclusive Harley Street. The real street, famed as the home of prestigious private medical practices, has seen a few modern developments since the 1920s but, conveniently, an old-fashioned pea-soup fog solves this visual problem. You can glimpse the street again in the original 1969 film of The Italian Job.
The interior of Logue’s practice, though, the extraordinary consulting room with striking windows and wonderfully distressed wallpaper is, amazingly, part of the same elegant Georgian house at 33 Portland Place that provided the royal couple’s ‘Piccadilly’ home (the eagle-eyed might recognise the same room from the 2006 Amy Winehouse video for Rehab). If you’re planning that really special bash, the house is currently used as one of London’s most idiosyncratic party venues.
Logue’s modest home, supposedly in Kensington, is 89-96 Iliffe Street at Campton Street, SE17, just south of Elephant and Castle. An awful lot of period dressing-down gives the neighbourhood to a suitably grimy pre-war look – but a subsequent coat of paint has perked up the street no end.
Logue auditions none too successfully for a production of Richard III at the Bloomsbury Ballroom in Victoria House, 37-63 Bloomsbury Square, WC1, on the northeast side of the square. The sleekly art deco venue hosts music nights and is available to hire (though at the time of writing, it appears to be closed).
After the cathartic session during which the future king unleashes a torrent of language rarely used by royals in public, Bertie and his therapist take a relaxing walk in the park. The formal garden, in which the Lionel eventually oversteps the boundaries of protocol, is the Avenue Garden in the southeast corner of Regent’s Park, NW1.
It’s back up to the north of England, this time to the other side of the Pennines in Lancashire, where the Duke’s rallying speech at manufacturing centre proves another hurdle. The mill is the Queen Street Mill Textile Museum, Harle Syke, on the outskirts of Burnley. Closed as a mill in 1982, it remains the last surviving, operational steam powered weaving mill in the world.
The party, held by Bertie’s older brother David (Guy Pearce) and Wallis Simpson (Eve Best) at the Scottish estate of ‘Balmoral’, is the Ballroom of Knebworth House, on the A1 in Hertfordshire, 28 miles north of London. This strikingly Gothicised Tudor manor has previously provided gloomy mansions for, among others, the Ingrid Bergman 1956 Oscar-winner Anastasia, Ken Russell's kitschy Lair of the White Worm (with a pre-stardom Hugh Grant), Gene Wilder's Haunted Honeymoon; the deliriously daft schlocker Horror Hospital; and – most famously – the exterior of ‘Wayne Manor’ in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman.
More regal interiors are portrayed by Hatfield House, also in Hertfordshire; Halton House in Buckinghamshire (which also appeared as 'Buckingham Palace' in The Queen, with Helen Mirren as Her Maj) and 6 Fitzroy Square, W1, in central London.
6 Fitzroy Square is the headquarters of national charity the Georgian Group, founded in 1937 to protect and preserve Georgian buildings and monuments in the UK. The Georgian period (broadly 1700-1837) produced some of the country’s most beautiful buildings, a fact not overlooked by film companies. 6 Fitzroy Square itself been used as a location for several film and TV productions, including Mike Leigh's Vera Drake, and Mira Nair’s Vanity Fair.
Though Knebworth provided the unmistakable silhouette of ‘Wayne Manor’ in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman, the interiors are Hatfield House, Hatfield, also in Hertfordshire. The house has been the castle of Lord Greystoke in Greystoke, the Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, the palace at ‘Greenwich’ in Oscar-winner Shakespeare In Love; the ‘great house’ in Virginia Woolf's gender-shifting fantasia, Orlando; the mansion of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider; and (Tim Burton again) home to the posh Salt family in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory among many others.
Halton House, Halton, Buckinghamshire, the one-time residence of Alfred de Rothschild, now used as the Officers' Mess for RAF Halton has featured on-screen a a casino in 1999 Bond movie The World Is Not Enough; Alan Parker’s Evita, with Madonna; in Bride and Prejudice and Stephen Frears' The Queen, as well as in numerous TV productions. It's not generally open to the public, but there are occasionally visiting days.
The intimidatingly grand ‘Accession Council’ at ‘St James’s Palace’, where the new king is intimidated by the portraits of former monarchs, is the Livery Hall of the Drapers’ Hall, Throgmorton Street, EC2 in the City of London (which supplied ‘Russian’ interiors for both 1995 Bond movie GoldenEye and the1997 Val Kilmer version of The Saint. It can accommodate dinner for 270 guests, if Portland Place is just too small for you. And, yes, those royal portraits are real.
Finding a stand-in for Westminster Abbey, the real site of the coronation – in fact, all English coronations since Edward the Conqueror in 1066 – is always a challenge. Although The Da Vinci Code famously used Lincoln Cathedral, as did another royal biopic, The Young Victoria, this time around, the coronation rehearsal was filmed in Ely Cathedral, Ely in Cambridgeshire.
The City of Ely (about an hour from London by rail) was an island until the draining of the East Anglian Fens in the 17th Century, and the cathedral was nicknamed the ‘Ship of the Fens’. It was recently seen as the Queen’s ‘Whitehall’ palace in Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth: the Golden Age and as Henry VIII’s palace in The Other Boleyn Girl.
The streets of wartime London, through which Logue is driven to royal residence Buckingham Palace, are the grounds of the Old Royal Naval College, King William Walk, Greenwich, London SE10, London SE10 (rail: Greenwich). The grounds of the college have been used similarly in Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, Thor: The Dark World, WWII drama Charlotte Gray, splurgy horror sequel The Mummy Returns, action comedy Shanghai Knights and – as 'Paris' in Tom Hooper's Les Misérables. The interiors have been seen in – among many other films – The Madness of King George, Four Weddings and a Funeral and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.
Originally a Tudor mansion, Englefield House, Englefield Village just west of Reading, Berkshire, is a private home and not open to visitors, though you can visit the gardens. It's also appeared in Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class, Woody Allen’s Match Point, and the 2008 Noël Coward adaptation Easy Virtue (with Colin Firth, again, and Jessica Biel).
The long walk to the final broadcast is through the lavish rooms of Lancaster House, Stable Yard, St James's, London SW1 – supposedly more opulent that Buckingham Palace itself (as Queen Victoria remarked when she popped in for a visit “I have come from my house to your palace“). It’s tucked away behind high walls at the end of Pall Mall, past royal residences St James’s Palace and Clarence House, and is now owned by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Although conferences are held here, the breathtaking Louis XIV interior is rarely open to the general public. You’ll probably have to content yourself with seeing it on screen, and you have plenty of opportunities.
Lancaster House became the Tsar’s ‘St Petersburg Winter Palace’ in Warren Beatty’s Oscar-winning historical epic Reds. The same interior appears as itself for the Lancaster House costume ball in the Merchant-Ivory film of Henry James’ The Golden Bowl, and also becomes the grand home of Lady Bracknell (Judi Dench) in Oliver Parker’s 2002 adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance Of Being Earnest.