The King’s Speech and the film’s links to Hertfordshire

PUBLISHED: 15:44 03 May 2020 | UPDATED: 10:55 22 May 2020

From left to right, Geoffrey Rush as Lionel Logue, Colin Firth as Bertie (King George VI) and Helena Bonham Carter as Elizabeth in The King's Speech

From left to right, Geoffrey Rush as Lionel Logue, Colin Firth as Bertie (King George VI) and Helena Bonham Carter as Elizabeth in The King's Speech

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With BBC One screening The King’s Speech tonight, did you know about the Oscar-winning movie’s links to Hertfordshire?

Director Tom Hooper on set with Helena Bonham Carter, who played Elizabeth in the 2010 multi-award-winning film The King's Speech. Picture: Speaking Film Limited. Supplied by Elstree Studios.Director Tom Hooper on set with Helena Bonham Carter, who played Elizabeth in the 2010 multi-award-winning film The King's Speech. Picture: Speaking Film Limited. Supplied by Elstree Studios.

The 2010 historical drama about the future King George VI claimed the Best Picture at the 83rd Academy Awards.

The film stars Colin Firth as the stammering son of George V, and the actor won an Oscar for his portrayal of the royal who ascends to the throne.

Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter also claimed Oscar nominations for their supporting roles as eccentric Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue and Queen Elizabeth respectively.

The movie gained 12 Oscar nominations in all, the most that year, with Tom Hooper winning Best Director, while David Seidler won the Best Original Screenplay. Not bad for a relatively low-budget film made in Hertfordshire.

Production of The King’s Speech was based at Elstree Studios in the borough of Hertsmere.

Filmmakers also shot scenes on location at both Hatfield House and Knebworth House.

In the introduction to Morris Bright and Paul Burton’s excellent book Elstree Studios: A Celebration of Film and Television, Tom Hooper writes: “When I first came to Elstree with The King’s Speech, the film had been turned down by most people – including all of the Hollywood studios.

“It was a hard film to put together. Independent film production is very stressful because the financing isn’t secure until the deals are closed, which involves agreeing every detail down to whether an individual actor has a trailer or not.”

A banner for The King's Speech at Elstree Studios. Picture: Alan DaviesA banner for The King's Speech at Elstree Studios. Picture: Alan Davies

Hooper, who later made The Danish Girl at the Herts studios, added: “We brought The King’s Speech to Elstree because the studio space is priced sensitively for independent productions.

“This was hugely important as we had such constraints on our budget.

“Elstree offered us the ability to house production offices, costume and art departments all close to London, and allowed us to build the sets we needed, such as the interior of speech therapist Lionel Logue’s mansion flat.

“Elstree was a great home, giving us stability through all that low-budget chaos.”

Due to their proximity to Elstree, and their film-friendly attitudes, Hatfield House and Knebworth House are often used by filmmakers for location shoots. Both were used for The King’s Speech.

Knebworth substituted for Balmoral in the movie, with the film crew arriving at the Gothic mansion in February 2010.

The house’s grand hall was used for a party held by Bertie’s older brother David (Guy Pearce).

Jamie Lengyel, location manager for Momentum Pictures on the film, told the Welwyn Hatfield Times in 2011: “Knebworth is privately-owned, film friendly and flexible to a film’s ever-changing demands and schedule.

“For Balmoral, we dressed the house, which gave us elements of the baronial castle within good range of our London base.”

Last summer’s film and TV exhibition at Knebworth House gave an insight into what happens on set.

Knebworth’s Henry Lytton Cobbold wrote: “During the making of The King’s Speech, Helena Bonham Carter told us about a game actors play when they are on location in other people’s houses: guess which piece of furniture or painting is native to the house, and which is off the ‘props’ truck.

“During the Balmoral party scene in the Banqueting Hall, there was much discussion about the painting that hangs at the head of the room, which is not Jacobean like most of the rest of the room, but of the period of The King’s Speech.

“Timothy Spall, playing Winston Churchill in the film, was quick to declare that the painting was ‘definitely off the props truck’.

“Helena was delighted to inform him that he was wrong, and that in fact he’d painted it... he being Winston Churchill.”

Knebworth House also doubled as an impromptu hotel for some members of the cast, who were snowed in during filming – causing some embarrassment the following morning.

“There was a fearful snow blizzard during the first day of filming and a number of roads became impassable,” explained Henry Lytton Cobbold in the film and TV exhibition.

Knebworth House. Picture: Alan DaviesKnebworth House. Picture: Alan Davies

“Most of the crew were staying at the Novotel in the park, so they were able to beat their way through the elements to find a bed for the night.

“Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter were less fortunate. They ended up spending the night with us: Colin in the Queen Elizabeth Room and Helena in Mrs Bulwer’s Room.

“The following morning, trying to find breakfast, Colin was ejected from the house by our head of maintenance, who, not recognising him, was of the opinion he shouldn’t be where he was.

“Colin found himself trapped in a locked courtyard, in the snow.”

Taking up the story, Ken Holmes said: “I was doing my early morning maintenance check of the house when I came across a man in the hallway.

“I asked who he was and he said he was an actor. I told him he shouldn’t be in this area and escorted him out of the door into the snow covered courtyard.

“I later discovered that it was actually the actor Colin Firth, who was playing the lead role in the film, and had stayed the night in the house as a guest of the family.

“He had slept in the Queen Elizabeth bedroom and lost his way heading for breakfast.”

In last summer’s exhibition notes, Ken added: “Apparently he had to climb over a wall in the snow to reach the film crew area as the courtyard gates were locked. I have never lived it down since.”

Colin Firth had the previous night revealed over dinner that he’d been to Knebworth Park before as a teenager – to see Led Zeppelin play one of their gigs there in 1979.

“He didn’t have a ticket, so he had climbed over the fence,” revealed Henry Lytton Cobbold.

Firth recently returned to the estate for filming of a new version of The Secret Garden.

Henry added: “We’ve welcomed back all four of the main cast members that were with us for The King’s Speech in separate productions.

“Guy Pearce in a movie Lyrebird, Timothy Spall in Summer of Rockets, Colin Firth in The Secret Garden, and Helena Bonham Carter in The Crown.”

• The King’s Speech can be seen on BBC One at 10.30pm tonight (Sunday, May 3).


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