It’s good to be king – or so the saying goes. But for George VI, or ‘Bertie’ as the audience comes to know him in Tom Hooper’s royal period drama, The King’s Speech, an early onset stutter is the crushing impediment of this monarch’s reign. It is said that people fear public speaking more than anything, including death. In other words, a fair portion of the population would prefer to be in the casket, rather than making the eulogy. How can a monarch make speeches with a speech impediment?
The film looks at this issue in the life of George VI (Colin Firth), from the time his father George V (Michael Gambon) was still in power, through to his brother Edward’s (Guy Pierce) short reign and abdication.
Director Hooper has until recently been a director in television series (Cold Feet, Prime Suspect) and mini series (Elizabeth I, and HBO’s multi award winning John Adams). Two different but not completely unrelated stories are told in his film. After seeing a series of professional speech therapists, Bertie’s wife (played by Helena Bonham Carter) finds Australian Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), whose unorthodox methods and humble surroundings prove to be the perfect therapy.
While these speech sessions serve as the backdrop for main plot in the film (the unlikely friendship between these two men), the subplot between the ruling and reigning of the three kings adds another layer to this unusual story. At times, this subplot is much more gripping and by the film’s close, the two merge into some terrific final scenes. The movie culminates with George’s first radio wartime speech as King in 1939.
Colin Firth, last notably seen in Tom Ford’s directorial debut A Single Man (for which Firth earned his first Oscar nomination), once again makes a career-defining performance. He so perfectly captures the anger and sadness within a man who can blame much of his affliction on family bullying. He is funny, raw and truly captures the essence of a stutter. His stammering is painful, yet magnificent. Do expect to see Firth at the Oscars again this year, perhaps even picking up the prize.
Geoffrey Rush is also perfect in the role of Lionel Logue (an Australian living in London with ambitions of being an actor,). He has a great opportunity to play a man who is all about elocution, diction and enunciation. With a talent for creating such specific characters, Rush is predictably wonderful.
Helena Bonham Carter plays perhaps the most recognisable character, Elizabeth (mother of England’s current monarch). Bonham Carter delivers such warmth, love and integrity that it’s a shame she’s not featured more (a common occurrence in most films she appears in). The love for her husband is the biggest task of the character, and Bonham Carter pulls it off easily. It truly feels like Bertie’s obstacles are her obstacles too.
Set in particular grey overtones, perhaps indicative of the forthcoming World War, The King’s Speech looks slick despite its antiquity. Hooper is a director to watch out for, especially at this year’s Academy Awards. The King’s Speech is rich in quality and story (credit to David Seidler’s brilliant script), and remarkable for being a film about a man, sound in mind and body, who manages to conquer his crushing disability.
The King’s Speech opened on Boxing Day and is released in Australia through Transmission Films.