Loud and clear with heart
Imust admit, when I first read the people behind The Queen were going to wring royal drama from King George VI’s speech impediment, I couldn’t help but roll my cynical little eyes. If you were going to mark off a checklist for Oscar oh-so-worthiness, The King’s Speech would tick all the boxes. Historical figures: check. Protagonist with physical or psychological obstacle: check. Distinguished cast: check. Potential for verbose monologues: high.
However, any thoughts of cold calculation melt away within the first five minutes as we watch Prince Albert (Colin Firth) address a packed Wembley Stadium, his bottom lip trembling as the speakers amplify and reverberate every syllable that stumbles from his mouth.
His wife, Princess Elizabeth (the future Queen Mum, played by Helena Bonham Carter), looks on with a heavy heart while the empathy of movie- goers soars to the stratosphere.
Todd Hopper’s picture is an eloquent and satisfying experience, anchored by the tentative kinship and whip-smart banter of Firth – a shooin for a Best Actor Oscar – and Geoffrey Rush’s unconventional speech therapist Lionel Logue.
The fact that most of us fear and loath public speaking – whether we stammer or not – only adds to our investment in Prince Albert’s plight, which takes on even more significance when elder brother, the brattish Prince Edward (Guy Pearce), chooses the twice-divorced Wallis Simpson over the throne.
In many ways a conventional mentor-student tale (think Good Will Hunting, but higher up the food chain), The King’s Speech is defined by the scenes of Firth and Rush at work, which grow more tender as ‘‘Bertie’’ opens up his life and thoughts to Logue.
The movie is well-supported by beautiful, subtle moments of the two men at home with their families.
There isn’t much to Logue beyond roguish Aussie charm and service to Prince Albert/King George VI, but with Firth’s character trying to find his voice and reconcile the life that’s been thrust upon him – ‘‘this isn’t a family, it’s a firm,’’ he tells his father – it doesn’t hurt the picture any.
Both Rush and Bonham Carter give warm, loving performances, but Firth is certainly the king; a master at conveying both dignity and vulnerability under fire.
His master’s voice: gives a career-best performance as the stammerafflicted Prince Albert who later became King George VI.