Touring the world’s global film festivals and being garlanded with a lot of critical praise, including winning the People’s Choice in Toronto, Tom Hooper’s film starring Colin Firth is gearing up to be a huge awards season success. Considering the previous two winners were Slumdog Millionaire and Precious, The King’s Speech is shaping up to be a serious Oscar contender.
The film tells the story of King George VI of England or Bertie who suffers from a dreadful stammer especially while speaking publicly, putting him and his listeners through hell, and as a result is considered unfit for the throne. Thus through the aid of an unorthodox Australian speech therapist, Lionel Logue, Bertie learns to overcome his fears, as he has to lead and empower his country to war.
Toronto as opposed to Cannes is becoming the place for niche films which require audience attention. The King’s Speech is exactly that, although it may have a wider appeal than on initial thought. We all know that award establishments and the other audiences outside of the UK, particularly America, have a certain reverence for British Monarchs being portrayed on screen. From Elizabeth to The Queen to Shakespeare in Love to Mrs Brown, usually leading to Oscar gold. At times deservedly so, none more deserving here than Colin Firth, who provides a brilliant performance as Bertie or King George. Last year he was nominated for A Single Man (who in my mind should have won) and is undeniably as a basis of this going to pick up a nod again. It is a different kind of performance then A Single Man, it sees him going back to the more comic buffoon we saw in Bridget Jones and matching that with the upper class snobbery of Mr Darcy.
However despite previous baggage an audience brings to seeing a Colin Firth performance, behind the exterior is a role which is beautifully nuanced and compelling. For a British audience, monarch character are usually difficult to identify with and have respect for numerous political reasons. But in the case of The King’s Speech, Hooper makes George essentially an everyman who happens to be in an extraordinary position but has a problem many people have: a difficulty of standing in front of people and talking.
The whole film is grounded by that and because Firth is at the centre of it all and we have to follow his journey and sympathise with his position. This point of entry for the audience is very well established by both Firth, who is immensely likable anyway, and Hooper. Perhaps more, controversially, than Mirren managed in The Queen. An overrated film anyway which tried to match the brittleness of our Queen’s public image with her public life, and I don’t believe it. So because Mirren’s performance was so brittle, albeit brilliant, there was no point of entry and sympathy. Here there is and is crucially important to the film’s success.
Around the central figure of Firth are two very fine supporting performances from Geoffrey Rush as the speech therapist and Helena Bonham Carter as George’s wife. Both are always worth their weight on screen and are always immensely watchable. Carter can lend herself to anything, from playing a mad, goth icon to refined, upper class mistress, here she gets to exercise more of her impeccable comedic timing. Rush is of course tried and tested in this kind of role and it isn’t exactly a stretch for him but he none the less shines in it.
If there is one problem I have with the film is that there is a whole subplot with George’s brother Edward VIII that doesn’t work. The plot line goes that Edward, played actually rather well by Guy Pearce, is having an affair with a married woman, which could be damning for the monarchy. I know it is all in the interest of making the film historically accurate but it is out of line with what George is going through in the progression of his story. The true, dramatic heart is of George trying to come to terms with his issues and stand for his nation and the public, the brotherly conflict does get in the way of that.
Other than the obvious padding, it is immensely watchable, nicely funny and also surprisingly tense when it gets down to George preparing the war time speech and standing in front of microphone. One to watch this awards season.
The King’s Speech will be on limited release on 26th November