The King’s Speech: A Review
The King’s Speech – Dir: Tom Hooper; *ing: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, Michael Gambon
It’s rare that the feel-good movie of the year is based on a true story; it’s even rarer that said movie is a cracking good watch despite being as predictable as chicken soup. Predictable not only because of its well-documented historical subject matter, but also because of the triumphal outcome indicated in the title itself. And yet, The King’s Speech manages to be marvelously entertaining and tremendously moving at the same time, with the denouement proving a whopper of a nail-biter, inspite (or, perhaps, because) of being visible a mile from the finish line.
It is 1925, and at the Commonwealth Exhibition in London, spectators wait to hear the closing address from young Prince Albert (Firth). What they hear instead is a series of deafening silences punctuated by what sounds like the intonations of a hiccoughing seal. Bertie, as is he known to loved ones, suffers from crippling shyness manifested most obviously and, for a royal, most disastrously, in a frightful stammer, an annoyance that plagues him even in ordinary, everyday conversations, but which becomes an insurmountable affliction when faced with large crowds and, seemingly his greatest nemesis, a microphone. Adored by his sympathetic wife Elizabeth (a superb, plummy Bonham Carter) but chided by his blowhard father George V (Gambon), Bertie does not possess the kind of charisma that automatically inspires the confidence and love of the people, unlike his elder brother, flamboyant heir to the throne, Prince Edward (Pearce). However big or small an inconvenience, Bertie’s problem with public speaking might have remained just that – an inconvenience – were it not for the fact that Edward’s dalliance with American divorcee Wallis Simpson makes it increasingly probable that, after their father’s death, the older son would abdicate in favour of the very averse and mortified younger one for whom the notion of such public a life is a frightening one. But, as history witnessed, abdicate Edward did, to be with the woman he loved, and Bertie was in fact the man who would be King, however unwillingly. And if uneasy lies the head that wears a crown, here it’s the tongue that is even uneasier. Enter Lionel Logue (Rush) an Australian speech therapist whose methods and means are unconventional, and whose manner is irreverent and, initially, abominable, to the royal. When Logue insists on the two addressing each other by their first names, Bertie is incensed, and resistant. “Do you know any jokes?”, asks Logue; “T-timing isn’t my strong suit,” replies the reluctant monarch bitterly. But when he finds that the unusual treatment is actually helping, he starts to open up to its possibilities. “Do you know the ‘f’ word?”, Logue enquires gingerly. “Ffff – fornication?” ventures Bertie before launching into a stammer-free aria of swear words – cussing has never sounded this regal or musical in a movie. The stakes get higher when the unavoidable war with Germany looms large in 1939. The King is duty-bound to address the nation and this is where the set-up to the climax comes into play: though his patient’s stammer is much improved, can Logue equip him with sufficient confidence and tricks of the trade to deliver what will possibly be the most important speech of the King’s life?
You already know the answer to that, but that doesn’t prevent the climax of the film from being one of the best, most exciting of the year, or any year. Of course that wouldn’t be the case if what had preceded it had been no good. But it is, it is so, so good. In many ways, The King’s Speech is an old-fashioned film, with director Hooper letting the tale unfold in an unhurried, almost matter-of-fact way; the only flourishes are in Rush’s gleefully colourful performance. But the film belongs to – and you knew this as well – Colin Firth; his masterful turn as the conflicted, put-upon but still proud prince-turned-king is a wonder to behold, at once subtle and dazzling. And together, the two men create an emotional epic – a bromance for the ages.