sat 20/07/2024

The King's Speech | reviews, news & interviews

The King's Speech

The King's Speech

Colin Firth's Oscar shout-out as Bertie, Britain's stammering king

Can you hear me at the back? Colin Firth goes for the Oscar gold

"Only project!" That's not quite what EM Forster famously wrote, but it serves as the leitmotif of The King's Speech, as ripe a piece of Oscar bait as you are likely to see this year. Neither as visceral as The Fighter nor as resonantly and fully realised as The Social Network, Tom Hooper's film nonetheless fields the necessaries guaranteed to lead this true-life tale of the maladroit stammerer who would be king to many a film awards dais.

Alive to issues of class, disability and family, and yet occupying royal terrain that remains intriguingly remote from most filmgoers, the movie's abiding paradox lies in its portrait of a king who has trouble with public address - an acting opportunity that will surely afford leading man Colin Firth many a grateful acceptance speech.

Firth has been circling bona fide film stardom for some time but has been otherwise outshone (Mamma Mia! is hardly remembered for its men) or outmanoeuvred. In that last category, one thinks particularly of A Single Man, which took Firth to the Oscars last year but was too resolutely precious and hermetic an enterprise to go the distance. No such worries apply to The King's Speech, which packs a wallop whether or not you have heard of the abdication crisis or think that George VI embodies a sequel to five previous movies you somehow missed. (Let's not forget that Alan Bennett's play The Madness of George III was retitled The Madness of King George for the screen.)

rush3Charting a course of recovery that has implications politically and also domestically, the movie makes much the same direct, occasionally shameless appeal to its audience that one recalls from previous Oscar-winner Shine, the story of a prodigal talent facing his own hurdles whose star, Geoffrey Rush (pictured above right), proves invaluable to this latest film as well. Rush plays Lionel Logue, the unschooled Australian speech therapist known for working on instinct. As impulsive and direct as his newfound patient is clotted and reined-in, Lionel is the movie's representative of the common man; how else to explain that when first encountered, he is in the loo?

Lionel faces a difficult task with Firth's Bertie (aka George VI), who has acceded to the throne following the ruckus around the romance between elder brother David (aka Edward VIII) and the twice-divorced Wallis Simpson. (That the American Mrs Simpson is played by England's Eve Best is one of several casting gambits of a movie that features the Cambridgeshire-born Australian Guy Pearce playing Edward VIII and not very well; one of the two performance missteps - Timothy Spall's comically jowly Churchill is the other - in an otherwise impeccably acted film.)

Movies love odd couples, and The King's Speech offers up a regal one in the voiceless monarch and his insistent teacher and confidant, Lionel, who wins a place in the abject Bertie's heart that few in his family are seen to have done. The obvious exception is Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, who is played by a suitably round-faced Helena Bonham Carter with such wit and charm that you wish David Seidler's script gave her more to do. "It's Ma'am as in ham," she announces to Lionel's unsuspecting wife (a game Jennifer Ehle, Firth's erstwhile Pride and Prejudice consort), who arrives home to find royalty seated calmly at the dining-room table. Bonham Carter, as per usual, looks as if she is having a ball in what is sure to mark this wonderful actress's own return to the Oscars for the first time since The Wings of the Dove in 1998.

Sure, the occasional sequence feels a mite contrived, not least the Big Moment in which Bertie lets rip with the liberating catalogue of expletives that landed the film an R rating in America. One could argue, too, that we don't need two "thank you" scenes at the end any more than we need two of Derek Jacobi (in fine form) registering his disapproval as an Archbishop of Canterbury who has no truck with the interloper that he perceives Lionel to be.

But Firth leads from the front with such compassion, abetted by a director clearly in his thrall, that a film about the struggle for speech ultimately silences such cavils. "I have a voice," this Bertie exults toward the end by way of a breakthrough, Lionel by his side responding, "Yes you do." From there, it's not long until the monarch's long, triumphant walk following the speech of this film's punning title - a walk Firth himself had best get used to because he's going to be making it more than once in the weeks and months to come.

Watch the trailer for The King's Speech

The movie packs a wallop whether or not you've heard of the abdication, or think George VI signifies some kind of sequel

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Isn't it all a bit tiresome when a film seems to be going out of its way to garner Oscars? Actually the best actor/actress performances I see are usually in the world-cinema field, but of course they only get awarded in their own little circles. But am I the only one getting a bit tired of Mr. Firth? How enervating were his smouldering looks in the lethargic 'Girl with a Pearl Earring'. How chilly his Single Man. But I'm prepared to believe that this is very good indeed.

From my point of view, The King's Speech is anything but a stiff-upper-lip drama as constrained as a corseted queen. It is, however, perfect film fodder for discerning audiences starved for literate entertainment.

Dear Matt, You may like to know that Claire Bloom, just turned 80 is to be given a life time achievement award in Vienna(of all places; she has also been given one in the states recently), March 17th!!! Good story I think. Why has she not been so honoured in the UK??

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