Genre: Biography, Drama, History
Directed by: Tom Hooper
Starring: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter
The first of its kind to be made, The King’s Speech tells the story of the bond of friendship that develops between King George VI, with his nervous stutter and Lionel Logue, an Australian speech therapist. Director Tom Hooper (whose previous works include The Damned United) had to wait until after the death of the Queen Mother to gain the rights and information to make a film about her husband. In The King’s Speech he has pulled together a phenomenal cast.
Colin Firth boldly steps into the role of Albert, Duke of York, delivering an astonishingly believable performance as he attempts to overcome his embarrassing stutter to become the leader of his nation. As the awards season approaches we are reminded of Firth’s breakthrough role as the smouldering Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, to an ‘almost Oscar’ in 2009 for his delicate performance in A Single Man.
An interview with Firth revealed that the actor undertook speech therapy lessons so as to procure a realistic stutter, which certainly paid off. It is astounding how much the stuttering appears natural to us so that we focus on his steady and determined change from devoted, yet depressed husband and father, to King of England. However, Firth doesn’t steal the entire show; he is supported by a superb cast of A-list performers, most notably Geoffrey Rush, who brings unique excellence to the role of Lionel Logue.
The chemistry between Rush and Firth sparks on screen and fuels the pace of the film, combining a mixture of wit, friendship and trust between the pair. As the film begins its rise to the climactic point where Firth must deliver his first war speech as King George VI, we witness a characteristic progression in our protagonist. He is pressured by a clever Logue at the rehearsal of the coronation, asking ‘Why should I waste my time listening to you?’ To which Firth commandingly replies ‘Because I have a voice!’ Both Firth and Rush deliver faultless performances here that firmly unite their brotherly relationship in one of the greatest scenes of the film.
Helena Bonham Carter stands assuredly by Firth’s side throughout the film as the Queen, showing her determined resolution to cure her husband of his stutter. She uses astute facial expressions and a tender, yet underlying sternness in her voice to portray a realistic performance that emphasizes Bonham Carter’s versatility.
Three further performances stand out: Derek Jacobi is a judgemental and censorious Archbishop of Canterbury, and Michael Gambon as George V is initially tough and unyielding, then a fragile and frail aging man. Guy Pearce creates an antagonistic and cruel Edward VIII as he taunts his brother about his stutter. Pearce is proud and assured in his role. Though none of these performances outshine Firth, they stand out in helping to create such a masterpiece.
Tom Hooper’s clever direction of this fictional drama adds pace and wit to the surprisingly interesting story, which leaves you coming away feeling warm, satisfied and educated. The editing is particularly notable, helping the audience engage with the film and ensuring that the pace never drags.
As Firth delivers his first war time speech the camera flicks gracefully from the reactions of Firth and Rush, Bonham Carter and Timothy Spall (Churchill), to the rest of the nation listening to the radio broadcast. This plus a memorable music score by Alexandre Despat that subtly accompanies the film, enables us to connect with the characters and creates an almost overwhelming ‘lump-in-the-throat’ reaction as we reflect on ‘Bertie’s’ triumphant conquest of his speech impediment set against the horror of the war to come.
Watch it twice, once for Colin Firth’s performance and then to enjoy the accompanying performances, the story and Hooper’s sleek direction.