“There was a time when all a king had to do was look respectable in a uniform and not fall off his horse”, says George V (Michael Gambon). But in the age of the newsreel and the wireless, kings must be heard as well as seen.
As the George V’s life draws to a close and the Abdication Crisis looms, it becomes increasingly likely that the crown will ultimately pass to a reluctant Duke of York (the future George VI, played by Colin Firth). A victim of childhood bullying, the Duke is a shy stammerer for whom the prospect of public speaking, let alone broadcasting, is the stuff of nightmares.
It is against this background that the Duchess of York (Helena Bonham Carter) approaches Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) in the hope that his unconventional methods can help her husband.
The King’s Speech is a strong film which draws on powerful classical themes. There is royal conflict (allusions to Shakespeare, which would have been pretentious in a lesser work, are not out of place). There is a clash of cultures as the man who is to become King-Emperor, through an accident of birth, learns to trust Logue (“call me Lionel”), a citizen of Empire who owes his place to his own abilities and efforts.
Most powerful of all is the story of one man’s struggle to overcome his personal demons in order to become the leader that his sense of duty, his times and his people demand.
Firth, Bonham Carter and Rush give outstanding performances with a strong, largely well-judged, script. High production values give a good sense of period without tipping over into nostalgia.
There are occasional weaknesses. Claire Bloom’s tepid Queen Mary and Derek Jacobi’s Archbishop of Canterbury seem to have been included as afterthoughts and Timothy Spall’s Churchill is a toe curling caricature.
Overall, though, a good piece of mainstream British film-making, well deserving of its five star ratings and award nominations.
Oscar speech ready Mr Firth? Breathe deeply, speak slowly and only to me. Such is the scenario of The King's Speech, in which Colin Firth's George VI must overcome a debilitating speech defect to rally his nation on the eve of World War II. Thankfully he has the help of Geoffrey Rush's Lionel Logue, a loquacious Australian convinced he can cure the monarch's embarrassing impediment.
Monochrome coolness evokes the confining nature of royal duty in Tom Hooper's beguiling film. Packed with politics and character portraits, it's a piquant experience. Opening with a microphone and an expectant stadium, silence deepens as Prince George steps up to make a speech that resounds with painful glottal stops. The faces of the crowd fall with shame and disappointment. Beside him, his wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) shares the pain and resolves to find a solution.
Marbles in the mouth, stand up straight, be a man, think about it. Unhelpful advice and quackery threaten to crush the Prince's spirit. But when Elizabeth secretly visits speech doctor Lionel Logue, an unlikely - but true - relationship ensues. Unaware he's treating a future sovereign, Logue's unconventional approach is a make or break opportunity. Unavoidable duty threatens to consign the Prince to a life of public awkwardness. And when his brother King Edward VIII contemplates abdication for Mrs Simpson, George's dilemma is set to become a national disaster.
Firth is fantastic as prince and king, a quirky, likeable man crippled by his sense of failure. But Rush, as Logue, is captivating and should also be prepping for his Oscar speech. Firth's on form following years of also-ran parts in so-so movies. Oscar-nominated for A Single Man, and now headlining The King's Speech, we're seeing greater depth from an actor who does troubled and wounded with convincing intensity. Funny and poignant, the relationship with Logue is deliciously delivered.
Rush’s is the more inhabited and seamless performance, impressively so as it’s the showier role. Bonham Carter’s Elizabeth is a typically understated achievement, stirring her husband towards duty and deliverance. Surprise casting sees Australian Guy Pearce (Memento) as a pitch perfect and remarkably look-alike Edward VIII - while Jennifer Ehle (Pride and Prejudice) makes the most of her cameo as Logue’s spunky Australian wife.
Slow pace and restrained direction might mar your enjoyment if the verbal fireworks don’t capture your interest. Chilly and funereal, it exudes the period and the predicament. But it’s Firth’s scenes with Logue that fire the film. Spitting out swear words to avoid the stutters, clapping on headphones so he can’t hear his own voice – you feel the ridiculous and touching aspects of George’s dilemma.
And director Hooper ramps up the political context, making for potent history rooted in a keenly personal drama. Arch moments – Timothy Spall adding himself to the roster of Churchill impersonators and Derek Jacobi hamming it up as the Archbishop of Canterbury – augment the experience.
Ultimately, the newest thing about The King’s Speech is the setting and the characters. Battling the odds, overcoming inadequacies – it’s been done before in a hundred films from Annie to Shine. Calmly and with regal rigidity, The King’s Speech blossoms into a cheer-leading and quietly exultant movie. But first and foremost it’s Firth’s and Rush’s film.
I thoroughly enjoyed this nostalgic movie. I even shed a tear! Surrounded by a sea of grey heads in the cinema I think I was the youngest (early 50's)and thus most reluctant to applaud at the end! I swear that if they'd played the national anthem everyone would have stood up and maybe even joined in!!
Don't miss this movie it has a real 'sense of empire' about it along with some great wit and moving moments.
10/10 ( I rarely give even 8 or 9)
A very good film which somehow just misses superlatives; I'm left wondering why, given such solid acting performances and a sensitive, plot driven script.
Perhaps it is because the film leaves out much detail, so that the psychological interplay between father and sons, kings and princes, isn't fully explored. Why King Edward (Guy Pearce) abdicates remains a mystery, given the rather insensitive portrayal of Wallace Simpson; did royals really act that rashly in the 1930s?
And there was no formal investigation of why King George (Colin Firth)'s stammer actually did improve, under the unorthodox tutelage of Logue. With no other success stories to mention, one was left wondering how the stammer-curer did it - would have been nice to know a bit more about this side of the King's progression, from nervous Prince to fully fledged oratorial monarch.
Not as good as The Queen, but a heartwarming reassurance that British period films are still alive and thriving.