The King’s Speech (2010)
Colin Firth melted millions of hearts in 1995 with his portrayal of Mr Darcy in Pride & Prejudice. An undoubtedly good actor, Firth achieved the ultimate accolade by winning an Oscar for The King’s Speech. I’d wanted to see this one at the cinema but never seemed to get the time to go. I’m glad I now finally have seen it.
The story focuses on Prince Albert “Bertie”, Duke of York (Colin Firth), who has suffered with a severe stammer for most of his life. Opening in1925 we watch the prince struggle through a speech at Wembley Stadium prompting his wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) to find treatment for her husband. After several unsuccessful attempts to help the prince, the Royal couple turn to Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), an Australian speech therapist who has settled in London. The film traces Logue’s work with the prince who not only has to face the prospect of future public addresses but the sudden and unexpected elevation as King of England.
Bertie’s opening speech is painful to watch, his wife visibly distraught for him while the crowds in the stadium are more appalled than sympathetic that their prince cannot even deliver a few words to them. When Elizabeth finds Lionel Logue she is discreet in revealing who her husband is and it is something of a shock when Lionel and Bertie meet. Lionel will not go to visit the Royals, insisting his sessions be conducted in his home and that titles and fancy names be left at the door. He calls the prince Bertie and insists on being called Lionel in return. Bertie is unsure of Lionel, sceptical of a cure for his stammer after so many years of suffering with it. In a wonderful opening moment Lionel has Bertie read Shakespeare and watches as the prince struggles. He then has him deliver the passage again but this time while listening to music. Although the prince leaves frustrated, Bertie reveals he read the piece beautifully when the music was there to distract him. Later hearing the recording of himself speaking perfectly, Bertie returns to Lionel and their work begins.
The film covers many years, beginning in 1925 then taking us to 1934 where King George V (Michael Gambon) is pressuring Bertie about public speaking and being rid of his stammer. All is not well in the Royall Family. When George V dies in 1936, David, Prince of Wales (Guy Pearce), becomes King Edward VIII. However, his future is under scrutiny when he wishes to marry Wallis Simpson (Eve Best), who is already divorced and by law the union would not be permitted. Though loyal to his brother, Bertie questions David’s relationship with Simpson only to be accused of trying to usurp the throne. Bertie’s past is a harrowing one to hear about including being teased by all of his family for his stammer, not being fed properly by a nanny for three years and living in fear of his father and brother. By the end of 1936 Edward VIII has abdicated and Bertie becomes King George VI. Lionel remains as the king’s therapist but the pressure is increasing. Not only will the king have to face a lot of public speaking such as a Christmas speech there is a growing problem across the English Channel. With Hitler steering Germany towards World War II and Britain declaring war in 1939, the nation looks to the king to deliver a historic speech to his people. The question is can Lionel help Bertie through it in time?
The King’s Speech is worth all the praise. Firth is superb as the stammering and unsure king while Rush is equally wonderful as Lionel who faces a lot of resistance from his patient but the two men become very close. The end credits that reveal the extent of their friendship are moving to say the least. The supporting cast are all good with Helena Bonham Carter as Elizabeth and Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill being notable ones. There is always an inevitability about these kind of films but that doesn’t make it any less rewarding for watching an individual, for so long inferior and subdued, overcome extreme adversity and thriving.
The King’s Speech is a well-acted and moving drama which shows the human side of the British monarchy and the pressure that they are under as public figures. Bertie’s story is an inspirational one and anyone that overcomes such a constraint as a speech difficulty, whether a monarch or an everyday man or woman, deserves great praise.
(Film source: reviewer’s own copy)