The King’s Speech (Tom Hooper, 2010)


Colin Firth (King George VI), Helena Bonham Carter (Queen Elizabeth), Geoffrey Rush (Lionel Logue). Screenplay by David Seidler. Directed by Tom Hooper. Rating: 12A. Running time: 118 minutes.

It is a sad fact that we often fail to fully appreciate actors until they play someone with natural disabilities, but The King’s Speech proves it is as true of Colin Firth as it was of Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman, Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump and Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man. Here, embodying an heir to the British throne with the most insufferable of stammers, Firth will almost certainly end up following those three in winning the Oscar for Best Actor that he should have won last year. His performance is perfect, utterly believable. Royalists and Republicans may differ in almost every respect, but one thing uniting them should no doubt be the fact that, regardless of the Royal Family’s legitimacy, King George VI truly appreciated the magnitude of the task and the burden of responsibility thrust upon him by forces outside of his control, and never did he shy away from overcoming his problems and fulfilling his duties to the best of his ability.

He may have only been a figurehead, but as the cabinets fighting the war alternated throughout the years, his role as a symbol of unity and continuity was crucial. It takes a while to appreciate what he must have felt, but as we eventually watch footage reminiscent of Triumph of the Will, Hitler waltzing through an animated speech inspiring his brainwashed citizenry to devotion, we realise how his attempts to deal with his dithering diction must have felt like a national rather than a personal task. None of this is ever said, but Firth’s eyes convey it all with ease. The entire film is a tale both of history and overcoming.

It is also, wonderfully, a tale of humour, provided for by the remarkable find of a close relationship between George and his Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue, played by Geoffrey Rush. The best moments of The King’s Speech come from these exchanges, Rush having a bundle of wonderful lines he must have taken the purest of joys in delivering. George’s original name being Albert, Lionel calls him ‘Bertie.’ Creating an equal platform is a technique that both succeeds and yet often fails, the latter arising from George’s temper and increasing frustration at the uncertainty and unbearable nature of his situation.

The King’s Speech works on multiple levels, and sits comfortably as a solid drama that is very hard to criticise. It is, however, undoubtedly what I call a theatre film. That is, all of its value stems from sources also available to other mediums of art: the impeccable acting, the flawless screenwriting. It would work just as well on stage as it would on the screen. This is, in a sense, an attack. I would never praise The King’s Speech on the basis of its cinematography, score, or unfortunately conventional narrative style. Comparisons with other recent releases like Black Swan, which are distinctively cinematic, are rendered absurd because of this difference. And yet none of this hinders objective appreciation of both Firth’s and Rush’s achievements here. Cherish them; they alone, accompanied by a moving dose of historical truth, are sufficient to make The King’s Speech a real treat.

One Response to “The King’s Speech (Tom Hooper, 2010)”

  1. 1 Academy awards: what will win and what should. « jacob williamson | thoughts on film

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