Quiet courage

Colin Firth stam­mers elo­quently as Ge­orge VI.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - MOVIES - By DAVID GER­MAIN

ACADEMY Awards vot­ers love a great per­for­mance as a Bri­tish monarch. And they love a great per­for­mance em­body­ing a dis­abil­ity.

Colin Firth, who earned his first Os­car nom­i­na­tion for last year’s A Sin­gle Man, this sea­son delivers on both counts in The King’s Speech, play­ing King Ge­orge VI as he re­luc­tantly as­cends to the throne amid a life­long bat­tle to over­come a de­bil­i­tat­ing stam­mer.

Of­ten play­ing glib char­ac­ters with a bit­ing tongue, as he did in the Brid­get Jones ro­mances and the com­edy Easy Virtue, Firth is the ut­ter op­po­site of elo­quent as Ge­orge VI, fa­ther of Queen El­iz­a­beth II, who was known by his given name Al­bert, or Ber­tie, to his fam­ily.

“I sup­pose I wasn’t look­ing to un­der­mine my elo­quence, such as it may be, or to in­ter­fere with my own abil­ity to com­plete a sen­tence,” Firth, 50, said in an in­ter­view at Septem­ber’s Toronto In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val, where The King’s Speech played ahead of its the­atri­cal re­lease.

“What fas­ci­nated me is what is in that stam­mer that tells us about what he’s go­ing through,” Firth said. “Those si­lences that Ber­tie finds him­self in when he hits one of those blocks are a pos­i­tive abyss, and they may only last a sec­ond or two, but they prob­a­bly feel like an eter­nity.”

Though early crit­ics prizes and the sea­son’s first big film nom­i­na­tions are weeks away, The King’s Speech has buzz as a po­ten­tial fron­trun­ner across the board at the Os­cars.

Along with Firth, who could emerge as the best-ac­tor favourite, the film has strong act­ing prospects for He­lena Bon­ham Carter as Ber­tie’s wife, Queen El­iz­a­beth, and Ge­of­frey Rush as his wily speech ther­a­pist.

Firth, whose par­ents were uni­ver­sity pro­fes­sors, stud­ied drama and got his start on the Bri­tish stage, in­clud­ing pro­duc­tions with the Royal Shake­speare Com­pany.

He grad­u­ally worked his way into tele­vi­sion and film in the 1980s and had a break­out per­for­mance as the aloof ro­man­tic hero, Mr Darcy, in a 1995 TV adap­ta­tion of Jane Austen’s Pride And Prej­u­dice.

Firth’s other cred­its in­clude The English Pa­tient, Love Ac­tu­ally, Nanny McPhee and Mamma Mia!.

A classy pro­duc­tion with metic­u­lous pe­riod de­tail, The King’s Speech is any­thing but a stuffy cos­tume drama.

The film is enor­mously en­ter­tain­ing, with great heart and wit rem­i­nis­cent of other Os­car win­ners fea­tur­ing Bri­tish roy­alty such as The Queen and Shake­speare In Love, in which Firth co-starred as Gwyneth Pal­trow’s vile hus­band.

Au­di­ences have adored The King’s Speech on the fes­ti­val cir­cuit, where its awards in­clude the prize for be­ing the fans’ favourite film at Toronto.

“We didn’t re­alise it was a com­edy as well as a drama,” Firth said. “We had no idea peo­ple en­joyed it on so many lev­els.”

Though few peo­ple to­day know much about Al­bert’s speech prob­lem, the story of his rise to the throne is well-known. He be­came king

Colin Firth in in which he gives a great per­for­mance as Ge­orge VI, a monarch with a de­bil­i­tat­ing stam­mer. in 1936 af­ter his brother, Ed­ward, ab­di­cated so he could marry Wal­lis Simp­son, a twice­di­vorced Amer­i­can.

It was pos­si­bly the worst time for a stam­mer­ing king. The new medium of ra­dio had taken hold, and Al­bert’s fa­ther, King Ge­orge V, had be­come adept at live broad­casts to his sub­jects.

For Al­bert, each time he went be­fore a mi­cro­phone was tor­ture, yet he came to power as World War II ap­proached, an era when Bri­tish cit­i­zens needed re­as­sur­ing words from their head of state more than at any pe­riod in their his­tory.

“As Ge­orge V says, all a king ever had to do be­fore was look good and not fall off his horse,” Firth said. “And if he had come along 10 years later, then he could have been edited, recorded. He could have been bailed out of it.”

Tall and broad-shoul­dered, Firth bears lit­tle re­sem­blance to the more slightly built king. Yet King’s Speech di­rec­tor Tom Hooper saw a per­sonal or spir­i­tual con­nec­tion be­tween the king and Firth that was vi­tal to the film.

“From my re­search, King Ge­orge VI clearly is nice to his core, and he’s a very gen­tle man and has a deep hu­mil­ity,” Hooper said. “Colin is nice to his core, very hum­ble, also a very gen­tle man. That great moral com­pass, great good­ness, great de­cency, I felt that con­nec­tion to him was the most im­por­tant thing.

“I also think if you’re strug­gling at get­ting ev­ery sen­tence of the movie out, you have to love him, you have to care for him. Colin has this ge­nius of be­ing very lov­able. He brings you into his emo­tional space.”

It’s heart­break­ing to watch Firth’s Al­bert ag­o­nise over his words, par­tic­u­larly in pub­lic speeches, when crowds are hang­ing on each fal­ter­ing syl­la­ble.

Co-star Rush, who as ther­a­pist Lionel Logue shares ex­tended scenes strug­gling to smooth out Al­bert’s speech, said Firth em­bod­ied the monarch’s frus­tra­tion and anger as much as the im­ped­i­ment it­self.

“It’s the old­est drama-school adage. You never played drunk­en­ness in a scene even though your char­ac­ter may be com­pletely soz­zled. Be­cause most drunken peo­ple are try­ing to look sober,” Rush said.

“Never once did I see a kind of tech­nique, a tech­ni­cal ap­proach to the work of a man act­ing stut­ter­ing. I con­stantly saw, here’s a guy who re­ally wants to say some­thing but can’t get it out.”

Al­bert’s re­served na­ture, let alone his stam­mer, made him ill-suited to be king, yet he be­came a beloved fig­ure to the Bri­tish peo­ple for his per­se­ver­ance.

In pre­par­ing for the role, Firth found an item his grand­fa­ther had writ­ten in a small In­dian news­pa­per af­ter Ge­orge VI died in 1952, dis­cussing the king’s quiet courage and hu­man­ity.

“The fear of pub­lic speak­ing is so enor­mous, any­way,” Firth said. “It’s con­sid­ered one of the pri­mary pho­bias that hu­mans have, and some­one was say­ing the other day, if you have to do the or­a­tory at a fu­neral, some peo­ple are so fright­ened, they’d rather be the guy in the cof­fin. And that’s with­out stam­mer­ing.”

Amid the London Blitz and the car­nage of World War II, “I think he’d have rather been out there fac­ing the guns than fac­ing the mi­cro­phone,” Firth said. “Peo­ple just sensed that it cost him a huge amount to speak to them, so there­fore, he was shar­ing their strug­gle.” – AP

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