The King’s Speech opens with a heart rending and toe-curling scene at Wembley Stadium in 1925 where the future King of England, Prince Albert The Duke of York (Colin Firth), stammers and splutters over a speech to thousands of unsettled members of the public. From there we are taken across a period of 14 years during which time Bertie (as he was affectionately known by his family) gains help and friendship from unorthodox Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue (played with superbly understated wit by Geoffrey Rush). While also experiencing the unprecedented events of the abdication of Bertie’s older brother Edward VIII (played with a wonderful slight, cowardly arrogance by Guy Pearce). Then as the clouds of war loom, we witness Bertie’s ascendancy to the throne. Firth takes him from being a reluctant prince to the beginnings of an inspirational King.
Before the film went into production, screenwriter David Seidler had written what eventually became the film’s script as a stage play. This is evident in the many intimate and somewhat static scenes between Bertie and Logue which in the hands of lesser directing talent may have become tiresome. But Tom Hooper’s direction is excellent; at times he confines Firth to being a hunched diminutive figure in the bottom corner of the frame. He keeps it simple and lets the characters drive the story not the events, allowing the fabulous cast of names to present their characters as if they were sat next to you (and he does it without even having to use 3D!). The supporting cast is full of fabulous turns from fabulous British thesps, to single out seems unfair on the rest although Helena Bonham Carter deserves a special mention for her performance as Bertie’s irrepressible wife (the future Queen mum) in what seems to be her first non-maniac-character-in-another-Tim-Burton-film role for quite a few years. But my personal favourite had to be Ramona Marquez (who you’ll probably recognise as Karen from Outnumbered) as Princess Margaret, bringing the same delightful charm to her conversations with Colin Firth as she does to her conversations with Hugh Dennis.
Firth’s portrayal of a man completely unable to express himself fully is at times gut wrenchingly sad. When the stammer is at its worse Firth conveys it with such visible pain and inability to speak the words he wishes, that at times it seems as if he’s going to be physically sick. Having turned in such a beautifully delicate and elegant performance in last year’s A Single Man he has now given us another delicate yet far more real character that’s much closer to home (for us limeys that is). Anyone who might call themselves indifferent or even dispassionate towards the Royal family and what purpose they might serve will certainly come out of this film questioning their own opinions. For Firth has managed to bring to light the plight and responsibility laid upon the few individuals who (whether they like it or not) are born to stand as the ultimate symbol of their country.
If you’re a betting man, it’d be a safe bet to stick a cheeky fiver on Colin Firth getting a second consecutive OSCAR nod this year, and it’d also probably be worth sticking anything you’ve got left over (if you’re lucky enough to have money these days) on him actually winning his first Academy Award. His performance in The King’s Speech is one of cinemas best from the last 12 months and undoubtedly the finest of his career. Though that’s certainly not to say that the merits of the film (of which there are many) are carried purely on Firth. Which is why I’d predict more than just acting nominations and awards for this truly majestic film.