Of course, if you are required to speak to a large audience on occasion or even worse, on an important occasion, one understandably might find that prospect truly terrifying.
If you have also been teased about your stutter since you were five, had an overbearing father who did not truly understand you. Perhaps, due to a sense of duty and conformity you were also obliged to keep a “stiff upper lip” and just get on with it, well you might not be the King of England, but just suppose you were?
Colin Firth is King George VI, ceremoniously dragged into a role he was not expecting following the abdication of his feckless brother, Edward (Guy Pearce). Edward, busy chasing Mrs Simpson and appeasing Hitler, was clearly never cut out to be King and decided to cut and run leaving “Bertie” in charge of the “Firm”.
Bertie is ably supported by his wife (Helena Bonham Carter) who desperately wants to help him overcome his affliction and with their children Elizabeth and Margaret, provide him with a solid support group. Corgi’s are also generously displayed, hammering the point home for those with no historical knowledge at all.
The Duke of York, as he starts out, has asked everyone for help, before alighting on Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). Logue, is a most unusual and formally unqualified speech therapist fresh from Australia, where he had helped shell shocked WW1 returning soldiers overcome speech difficulties.
The two men form a bond despite the yawning chasm in their social places, there is a delightful scene when the the King and Queen “come for tea”, unbeknown to Logue’s wife. The story is about finding a friend when you have none and learning to trust when you are in a position where you can trust no one. There is real humanity on display and many of these early scenes are poignant and take the film into serious drama you might not have been expecting.
The scenes between Rush and Firth are perhaps the strongest and Director Tom Hooper keeps the interplay believable but allows Firth to crackle with repressed energy and inner rage, at his frustration that he cannot fully realize who he wants to be. There is perhaps, some intended irony in Logue’s amateur attempts to play a King (Richard III) at the same time he is effectively doing so by proxy.
Like Churchill (Timothy Spall), history is about being the right man/woman for the time. In this case “Bertie” was the right man for the job, if only his voice would allow him. Staying in London during the war and caring, as much as royalty can, for the common man, the King and Queen were much loved by that generation. Nominally, a much needed figurehead behind which resistance and strength could be built, to pursue the war with Germany. It is difficult for a modern young audience to realise the importantance, when modern heroes or role models are now in such short supply.
The film is sumptuously staged, costumes and settings are a delight, albeit staged almost like a play. The creaking leather and floorboards, the quietly clashing ceremonial swords and the methodical preparations of the BBC announcer are all beautifully done.
Firth has never been better, showing a full range of emotion but notably sheer terror before making speeches he knows he will struggle to articulate. Firth embodies the role and shows again his range following his part in “A Single Man”. This is not just a “grab a stutter off the shelf” type role, you can see the effort, care and respect he has for the part and those affected by the affliction, which hopefully will finally introduce him to his new friend, “Oscar”.
Bonham Carter is also highly effective as his supporting wife, caring for him but also knowing the role he/they must play in the unfolding tragedy of war. Geoffrey Rush is both respectful and familiar with his unusual charge and it is difficult to see how the role could have been played better. Guy Pearce is a strange choice for Edward (being conspicuously Australian) but does well in the circumstances.
A highly enjoyable, insightful glimpse into a private yet very public battle, the Royal Family suddenly expected, due to the advent of wireless, to do more than “not fall off their horse”. There is a real feeling, acknowledged in the screenplay, of the Royal Family acting parts with which they have been blessed/cursed but can rarely, if ever, not play in public.
A historical biopic with none of the usual dirge such a summary might suggest, instead a superbly acted drama that anyone with even a passing interest in the subject matter, will surely enjoy.
Interestingly, screenplay writer Seidler requested permission from the Queen Mother (Berties wife) who agreed but on the condition “not in her lifetime”, Seidler not expecting she would live to 101.
Respectful, beautifully staged and brimming with excellent performances, highly recommended.
Expect to see the film, crew and cast members at Oscar time.