Star Rating: 4.5/5
The term ‘born for greatness’ is one often used to describe the life of king. Nevertheless, it is a vague term: one that does not give a remote hint to the strains and struggles that comes with achieving great feats. The King’s Speech illustrates a form of such a challenge with the brilliance of a masterpiece.
The film centres on Bertie (Colin Firth – Bridget Jones’ Diary, Dorian Gray, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), the future King George VI of Britain (1936-52), who has a terrible stammer, and how he must overcome this stammer in order to compete with the other great orators of his era, such as Sir Winston Churchill and Adolf Hitler. When it becomes clear that his older brother, David (Guy Pearce – Memento, The Hurt Locker, Prometheus), the future King Edward VIII (abdicated in 1936), would rather marry Wallis Simpson (Eve Best), a twice-divorced American woman, than take up the throne, the necessity for Bertie to speak more eloquently becomes paramount. After-all, he is next in line.
After trying several therapists for years, Bertie turns to Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush – Pirates of the Caribbean I-IV, Shakespeare In Love) and his unconventional methods to help solve the problem. By taking us through stage-by-stage of Logue’s methods, the director, Tom Hooper (The Damned United, Les Misérables), ensures that we see Bertie’s tremendous struggle to complete a sentence without stuttering (something seemingly so effortless for the majority of us). However, we would not be able to realise just how frustrating and aggravating it must have been for Bertie if it weren’t for the exceptional performance of Colin Firth. Never before has an Adam’s Apple been so over-worked or scrutinised as in The King’s Speech.
Yet, it is not just Bertie’s consistent stammering that makes Firth’s act so memorable, but also how it affects Bertie’s general behaviour. Throughout the movie, the future George VI suffers from chronic diffidence. His speech impediment affects everything from the way he walks, talks and looks at people; to his need for emotional support from his wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter – Fight Club, Harry Potter V, VI, VII(i) & VII(ii), Alice in Wonderland, Les Misérables), the future Queen Elizabeth II’s mother. And this does not even include his bad temper or his fears; most notably, public speaking. In a first-class display, Firth captures Bertie’s dread superbly as well as his character’s comprehension of the responsibilities of a monarch.
Firth is undoubtedly the stand-out performer of the movie. But that is not to say that Geoffrey Rush or Helena Bonham Carter do the film a disservice. On the contrary, they play their roles very well: the former as the tolerant therapist with a wry sense of humour, who understands how best to deal with the king’s stammer; and the latter, as the supportive wife of a man who feels that he must triumph against all odds in order to carry out his duty as king.
Alas, The King’s Speech does not touch upon the gastric problem that Bertie endured throughout his life. It also wrongly portrays the relationship between Bertie and David. (Not to mention the one between Elizabeth and David too.) Since the film is based on real events (as opposed to a book or an urban legend), historical accuracy is important and is slightly lacking in the movie, even if it is regarding a relatively minor part of the story.
This, though, should not take too much away from The King’s Speech. The film is simple, original and outstanding. In addition, it is funny (albeit in a very English way) and engaging. The acting is fitting for Oscar nominations, and Firth’s ability to make us feel the pain that Bertie’s stammer caused him is right up there with the greatest of performances. That there is no fairytale ending to the film gives The King’s Speech greater credit and more than a twinkle of realism: it makes us appreciate how and why King George VI managed to win over the affections of millions across the world.