What could be more English than a film about King George VI leading Britain into World War II, directed by a Londoner educated at Westminster School and Oxford U.?
But Tom Hooper’s “The King’s Speech” is far from parochial, as its success in the U.S. proves. Along with more obvious examples among this year’s BAFTA contenders such as Danny Boyle’s “127 Hours” and Chris Nolan’s “Inception,” it’s typical of the cosmopolitan sensibility which often characterizes the best of British filmmaking.
“The King’s Speech,” about a culture clash between a British royal and his Australian therapist, is the work of an American writer who was born in Britain, an Anglo-Australian team of producers and a director whose worldview is strongly influenced by having an Australian mother and an English father.
Hooper’s parentage is a quirk of personal history that connects him intriguingly with Boyle, whose mother was Irish, and Nolan, whose mother is American.
Scratch the surface, and such immigrant ancestry turns out to be surprisingly common among contemporary British filmmakers, from Richard Curtis, Gurinder Chadha and the late Anthony Minghella, to Peter Morgan, Steve McQueen, Joe Wright and countless others. Even “Another Year” director Mike Leigh, that quintessential observer of English life, had four immigrant grandparents.
How this influences their art, or whether it does so at all, is likely to be different in each case.
“It’s to do with the balance of being an insider and an outsider,” Leigh suggests about his own background. “Part of my take on the world is very much derived from being that.”
Hooper says his Anglo-Australian heritage has always been fundamental to his conception of himself as a person and as a filmmaker. “I was brought up having a duality of perspective, which is incredibly important in being a director when you have to be both outside and inside cultures at the same time,” he says, echoing Leigh.
When he shot “Prime Suspect” in London, that helped him to see his hometown through alien eyes, which mirrored the experience of the illegal immigrants in the script. “That whole sense of making the familiar strange is what a director does,” he says.
On the other hand, when he went to the States to make the Emmy-winning “John Adams,” Hooper says, “I felt it was an advantage to have an outside perspective, rather than thinking, ‘Oh God, I shouldn’t be doing this because I’m not American.’ ”
When his mother drew his attention to “The King’s Speech” after attending a reading of David Seidler’s unproduced play, Hooper immediately realized the script was tailor-made for him.
“I’ve long wanted to find some material that uses my Australian side,” Hooper says. “I was interested in any material that dealt with the Anglo-Australian relationship, which is so specific.
“When I started shooting, I had this incredible sense of being at home in the story, which seemed ridiculous because I know nothing about the monarchy. But I realized that my childhood was a very good preparation for this film, my Aussie mother challenging the effect on my father of his upbringing.”
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