Aristocratic and Elegant

The King s Speech, dir. Tom Hooper, com. Alexandre Desplat

  • The King s Speech, director Tom Hooper, composer Alexandre Desplat

    There are two types of film music composers. The first and the most common is the type of musical chameleon, who can easily adapt to any film genre by changing his (or hers) way of composing. Rarer are composers of the other type, who always keep their recognizable, but unchangeable style. Alexandre Desplat, one of the most wanted composers of contemporary films, belongs to the second group. His lyrical style marked his early Hollywood films as Girl with a Pearl Earring and The Birth. His scores were also greatly used in his later films, especially in The Queen. But in films which have more action – as Twilight Saga: New Moon and Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows – his sentimental and gentle musical view wasn’t always the best choice (it is not that his music doesn’t function in those movies, but it seems that more action oriented composer would have given more to them). I suppose that producers (or whoever hired the composer) where thinking of fantastic element in the story which could become the inspiration for the composer in Desplat’s league. But, whenever story touches the action, Desplat is going back, withdrawing his music in the background of the old fashioned inaudibility.

    But, enough of that. King’s Speech belongs to the genre which goes together with Desplat’s lyrical style. There are some composer’s standards in the score – from the usage of simple classical harmonies, to known orchestration with piano solo becoming the most important instrument in the orchestral texture. With his score for King’s Speech, Desplat, in fact, didn’t bring anything new to his overall sound in his opus, but this doesn’t mean that his music wasn’t dramatically suitable for the story about King George VI who, because of his speech disorder couldn’t carry his royal duty to communicate with the people. With his usual simple approach, but also with the great deal of humor (which isn’t so opened in the story as is in the score itself) and with lots of elegance and nobleness, Desplat describes specific relationship between speech therapist Lionel and His Majesty “Bertie”. This score reminds in many ways to the score of The Queen which is also about royalties and where Desplat also shows a great affinity to elegancy but also shows specific closeness of the royal lives which is not typical to the common people. It seems that in King’s Speech Desplat tried to break magic circle of royal behavior. For that, of course, he was inspired by the plot where the prince is forced to ask for a help from unorthodox man who looks at him as the common man.
    The King s Speech, director Tom Hooper, composer Alexandre Desplat
    As king felt differently and unusually among people outside the royal court (with whom he had to communicate through the new medium – radio), Desplat’s being among common Hollywood composers also felt differently. It is completely clear that his way of composing breaks Hollywood clichés, but it does it in the way which is not revolutionary. He could be, as Beethoven was, looked at as the bringer of the New. But Beethoven was called “romantic amongst classics” and Desplat could be characterized in opposite way – as classic amongst romantics – if we think of musical periods in the contemporary context of neo-classicism (which is more, but not completely, typical for Desplat) and neo-romantism (which is more typical for the most American film composers).

    This is probably the reason why director Tom Hooper didn’t use Desplat’s music in the most important scene of his movie – the scene where George VI speaks to the nation in the dawn of the World War II. Instead of Desplat’s lyrical and recognizable musical language which, because of its sameness, couldn’t emphasize the special film spot, director used Beethoven’s music. Allegretto from Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony is most probably the most recognizable and the most exploited lyrical movement from the classical repertoire (its power is only comparable with the power of Mahler’s Adagietto from the Fifth Symphony).
    The King s Speech, director Tom Hooper, composer Alexandre Desplat
    Clearly simple in its melody and harmony (the melody for the whole movement is driven from the simple and, in the same way, beautiful harmonic progression), this movement simply leaves its audience breathless. And its minimal development (which is mostly done through dynamics and instrumentation) in the sense of film’s dramatization seems ideal for the film: king, as his daughter later says, begins his speech slowly and with squeezed throat, but continues more bravely and without bigger mistakes brings his exceptionally important speech to the end. Like in music, which finds its foundation in repetition and minimal development of the same musical material, it seems that nothing happened in the movie, but, at the same time, everything happened. King successfully overcomes himself and brings faith to his own people. Is there other composer who could give him better backup than elegant, noble, lyrical, but at the same time extremely stubborn and persistent Beethoven?

    After that, one can only listen to Beethoven (and not Desplat). So, decision was that the end credits should be left to Beethoven’s music. But since Beethoven’s Fifth concert for piano and orchestra connects Desplat’s favorite instruments, it seems that composers’ circle is also closed – it seems that Beethoven is put into Desplat and Desplat into Beethoven. In any case, this is royal solution for the soundtrack in the film about royalties.

    © Irena Paulus,, 15 February 2011