Crowning Glory: How The King's Speech got made

Bedlam Productions’ co-founder Gareth Unwin explains how he took an unknown script and turned it into one of the most high profile British films of 2011.

“Joan Lane, a theatre producer at Wild Thyme Productions, was sending us everything that came across her desk. She was representing the writer David Seidler, who had this stage play and she wanted to see if we were interested. We saw a germ of an idea.

We went off, did our due diligence to make sure the story had not already been told. Joan helped us hold a reading of the script at the Pleasance Theatre. We worked with ex-chair of Bafta Richard Price, and started turning this story about two grumpy men sitting in a room into something bigger.

We asked a number of Australians through Joan if they would attend the reading and one of them was our director, Tom Hooper’s Mum. Tom tells the story that she walked out of the auditorium and phoned Tom and said: “I’ve found your next project”.

Then Joan rather brazenly, and told us after the fact at bit, realised she knew an assistant who lived two doors down from Geoffrey Rush. We took the slightly audacious move of posting the script in a brown envelope through his front door which flies against every fibre of me knowing how the business works. We ended up with a four page email from his manager tearing me a new one. But it finished off with Geoffrey saying he liked it and that we should talk. We wouldn’t have got to talk to Geoffrey otherwise. Joan was audacious in her thinking and it did pay off.

We realised he wouldn’t align himself with something that didn’t have legs. It was turning into something special. He is too long in the tooth and too wise. And he now tells the story about sorry he felt for this little orphan script delivered on to his doorstep.

Once we had the involvement of See Saw Films, who also have a foothold in Australia, we started to aggressively work out how we were going to take this forward. This was just at the point of the collapse of Lehman Brothers and everything was going a bit financially shaky in Britain. We had our aspirations but then also knew what the market would pay for it. You could have the Bible ready to go into production but if it is going to cost more than the market is prepared to pay for it then it is torpedoed from the off.

Geoffrey was on board as an executive producer then. We had lunch with Tom and we realised there is no better person at work in Britain who is better at dealing with factual subject matter. It just lit him up. He wanted to give the story a sense of grand scale but still make it a friendship movie. We had a first look Momentum on board in Britain and then we started our courting dance with North America.

If you’ve got a budget of over $5m you need the North American market. That’s when it became a pissing contest between Fox and the Weinsteins. The head of Fox Searchlight was really keen, his Dad was a stutterer but a tinge of hesitancy came in and it turned out he was moving from there to somewhere else and he didn’t want us trapped in limbo. At the same time, Harvey, with all of his bluster, had sent one of his guys over from New York. “Don’t come back without the fucking script,” I like to think he was told. Harvey’s emissary was stuck here for several nights and unable to leave because he couldn’t take the deal back to Harvey. There were a lot of late nights and it’s amazing, it almost got down to this kind of bare-chested deal-making. Imagine Turkish wrestling. It’s that kind of negotiation.

As far as Harvey is concerned, when I first came across him I was expecting someone eight foot tall who ate producers but we’ve had a very nice relationship. It comes down to trust. Unless that relationship is totally functional you’re in trouble and there may be blips or things that you disagree over. We promised him a great movie and he promised us that he would get it out there. So far both parts of relationship are sticking to their word.

As far as the shortlist for actors to play King George was concerned there were three or four names in the mix. Ultimately, it was great to have Colin on board. All producers talk to each other and we were hearing great things about him and then at his acceptance speech at the Baftas for A Single Man he was actually stuck for words and was stuttering. Tom tells the story that he was so happy to hear him stuttering. Those two had a long lunch and talked about the character and Colin was very quick to put himself up for it.

Then the wider casting started to kick in. We had a great casting director in Nina Gold who had worked with Tom before. The script kept going through iterations. We also tried to develop other strands, open it up, explore the abdication story, the backdrop of war. It’s hard to foreground other parts of history with a deftness of touch and to manage the peaks and troughs. We had to cut various elements from the final film such as a funeral cortege scene of King George V.

There was a lot of fact-checking in terms of getting all the authenticity right. After all, we are making a film about the reigning monarch’s Dad. We got one of the art department to go see Mark Logue, the only surviving member of the Logue family. All through the therapy process Lionel kept diaries about the therapies he was giving, though he never broke confidences. Mark had access to these documents. That’s where a lot of the accuracy in the film comes from. Mark ended up acting as an adviser and consultant on the final project.

Then we went into production from December 2009. We had an amazing crew who went to the wire for us. We shot the film in 39 and a half days which is a punishing schedule. We shot two thirds before Christmas in three weeks, because Geoffrey was due to go and work on another project. We’d heard that earlier in the year, and it lit a fire under our bums. We also could only have Helena on Saturdays and Sundays so we were doing crazy weeks. We were like the divorced parent who could only have her at weekends.

After post-production and adding the music there was the festival run. From that point it’s been a ride. At one point we found ourselves in Marilyn Monroe’s bedroom at an after party. The whole experience has been really weird. You become incredibly observational. I would often step out of the limo and there would be a lot of paparazzi taking photographs until they realised I wasn’t Colin Firth. Britain is very different to the States but in both cultures the higher up the food chain you get the less bullshit there is. My text message relationship with Harvey Weinstein has been hilarious. I think we are both working on using the least number of characters we can.

It’s been great fun and been lovely to share those moments with my business partner of nigh on 15 years. Every step of the way the paranoia kicks in that you’re going to get found out. But then the nervousness dissipates. Let’s see what happens at the Golden Globes. As producers what counts for us is the nominations. That’s the respect from your colleagues. The wins are just a roll of the dice. But we keep getting little surprises.

Next up, David’s developing an Off Broadway production. We will see how that develops. I think people will be interested in seeing the play in its original form. Our company will continue to develop its TV slate. We have David Seidler’s next film in development and we are financed on that and are beginning to get interest from cast and distributors. The King’s Speech was a big step for us. We are hoping to make quality material for many years to come.”

Arts and Entertainment Musical by Damon Albarn


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