The King’s Speech
A fine one to talk
Apparently public speaking is the number one fear in the world, ahead of such minnows as heights, flying and even death. Which puts even more firmly into perspective the absolute terror felt by the stammering Prince Albert (known as “Bertie” to his family, and latterly King George VI to the rest of us). With a speech impediment that appeared in his early years, probably as a result of bullying and an overbearing and strict upbringing, the second in line to the throne never expected to have to perform publicly. When his brother’s scandalous abdication placed him upon the throne, Bertie had no choice but to adapt.
There has been huge hype about this latest British royalty-flick, and everything you have heard is true. Top of the list, and surely with an Oscar on the horizon this time, Colin Firth delivers a bravura performance that takes you deep into the fortressed psyche of a reluctant Royal, stuttering his way (naturalistically and sympathetically) through two hours of tight-jawed anxiety. Helena Bonham-Carter plays the Queen Mother, loving and supportive in a way that doesn’t quite tally with the tabloid gossip about her following her death, but certainly makes for wonderful characterisation and an enjoyable watch. Guy Pearce, perhaps an odd casting choice for King Edward VII (who marries the American divorcee Wallace Simpson) does a superb plum-in-mouth, and there are delightful cameos from Brideshead Revisited stalwarts Anthony Andrews and Claire Bloom. Michael Gambon and Derek Jacobi play “baddies” (in the form of King George V and the Archbishop of Canterbury, respectively) and even Timothy Spall pops up in a caricature of Winston Churchill.
But it is the brilliant Australian actor Geoffrey Rush, playing Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue, whose scenes with Firth make the most moving and intense moments of the film. His ability to break down the austere barriers created by class and colonial disdain, and his down-to-earth Aussie attitude (insisting on calling the Prince “Bertie” in an effort to make them equals in the treatment room) mean that Logue provides not just the laugh-out-loud moments, but the depth required for us to care about an over-privileged person who suffers a great disadvantage.
The film doesn’t exploit the historical potential for lavish production design, fancy costumes and grand spectacle, instead focusing on engrossing performances from the whole cast. The script zings along at quite a pace (interestingly not written by Simon Beaufoy, Peter Morgan or Julian Fellowes, but by TV/animated movie writer David Seidler) and there are blasts of perfect popular classics by Mozart and Beethoven. The King’s Speech deserves its accolades, and its cast deserve the acting awards that will surely shower upon them in the forthcoming BAFTAs and Academy Awards. I hope Firth has prepared his acceptance speech.