The King’s Speech tells the very personal story of that most reluctant of public figures King George VI. Suffering from a speech impediment from his early childhood George VI became the reigning monarch by default when his elder brother Edward VIII abdicated the throne in order to marry the divorcee Wallis Simpson. More than a little embarrassing George’s stammer amounts to a constitutional crisis when it is discovered that he is unable to sufficiently communicate with his subjects. The crisis is made all the worse by the significance of the era it being the period building up to the Second World War. However, when George’s wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham-Carter) enlists the help of an unorthodox Australian speech therapist named Lionel Logue, George begins to make dramatic improvements.
Slightly reminiscent of a BBC4 drama albeit on a much larger scale The King’s Speech manages to recreate the cultural climate and visual surroundings of pre-war Britain with remarkable accuracy. The opening sequence in which George, then Duke of York, makes his inaugural speech at the closing ceremony of the Empire Exhibition before thousands of spectators and millions of radio listeners is extraordinary in the grandeur of its scale. In an almost unbearably tense moment the world stands still and listens in silence as the panicked duke falters his lines.
The regal looking Colin Firth is well suited to role of George and gives a sympathetic performance playing the browbeaten royal to a tee. Intimidated by his domineering father King George V (Michael Gambon) and made to feel inferior to his brother Edward, George or Bertie as he was known to his family, is severely lacking in confidence this being the problem which lies at the heart of his stammer.
Enter the swaggering Australian Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) who is seemingly the mirror opposite of George being both self-assured and unafraid to make a fool of himself. In hugely enjoyable scenes filled with witty exchanges the stuffy George is made to perform a series of unorthodox techniques including aerobics, reciting tongue twisters and operatic singing. As George and Bertie carry out the exercises and we try hard not to be reminded of Daniel san and Mr Miyagi performing “wax-on wax off and paint the fence,” their friendship continues to grow.
Geoffrey Rush, whose acting is always second to none, is thrilling as the unpretentious and astute Logue. Although Lionel’s refusal to acknowledge the Duke’s lofty status is part of his therapy, breaking down the barriers between royalty and commoner, it is also apparent that the mischievous Aussie is having enormous fun into the bargain.
Whilst they may appear to be quite different Logue and George share an important parallel. Lionel is a failed actor similarly George is unable to play the role of king to the required standard. George is infuriated when he discovers that Lionel is unqualified to work as a speech therapist. Taught from birth to respect status and titles the fact that Lionel’s unorthodox techniques are actually working is not George’s main concern. Carrying out a form of psychoanalysis Lionel gets a reluctant George to speak of his childhood in order to deprogram him of the learnt fears and to move away from the artificial world of ceremony in which he has lived. A one point he tells him “you don’t have to be afraid of the things you were afraid of as a child.”
Other outstanding performances come from Guy Pierce who is excellent as the repellent bully Edward VIII, portraying him as a pure hedonist with little or no sense of duty. Helena Bonham Carter plays Elizabeth, (better known to us as the Queen Mother,) with a very definite sense of the British stiff upper lip standing solidly beside her husband. Derek Jacobi is on top camp form as the obsequious Arch Bishop Cosmo Lang.
Far from being a remote story of a Britain long since passed The King’s Speech penetrates the very psyche of the monarchy unearthing the pressures, restrictions and conflicts that continue to exist within the institution. Justifiably nominated for 12 Academy Awards The King’s Speech is intelligent, funny and moving. A majestic masterpiece the film even has Timothy Spall making a cameo appearance as Winston Churchill and simply put is unmissable!
The King’s Speech is showing at Phoenix Square until February 3rd. For the latest film releases at Phoenix Square, click here