The King's Speech
Geoffrey Rush shines as an unorthodox speech therapist alongside Colin Firth's troubled King Edward
The director of The King’s Speech, Tom Hooper, says that this film is about the B plot in the accession to the British throne of Albert Edward, Duke of York after the abdication of his brother Edward VIII in 1936. The A plot, Hooper says, is usually the controversial love story between Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson.
By concentrating instead on the terrors that the younger brother had before and after becoming king, Hooper and his screenplay writer David Seidler have created a much more human and humane drama which, in essence, is about two issues.
Albert, Duke of York, to put it in modern terms, had been abused as a young child by his cold, disciplinarian father, George V and by his nanny. Unloved, 'retrained' to write with his right hand and forced to wear metal splints to correct his bow legs, it is not surprising that Bertie developed a crippling communication disability - a dreadful stammer - by age five.
Sadly, stammers in film are usually used for comic effect or to signal sociopathic deviance. Here, Bertie, played by Colin Firth, is shown as a loving family man whose disability is horribly exposed when he has to make public speeches. The film begins with his failing to address the crowds at Wembley in 1925.
The other central issue of the film is that of public speaking and performance in the infancy of mass broadcasting. At one point in the film, George V (Michael Gambon) growls to his son that wireless broadcasts have reduced the Royals to 'mere actors'.
Tellingly, later in the film, Bertie watches a newsreel of Hitler mesmerising an audience with his words and gestures. Asked by the young Princess Elizabeth (Freya Wilson) what Hitler is saying, Bertie replies, 'I don’t know. But he’s doing it very well.'
To assist him in coping with the horrors of public speaking, Bertie is introduced to the unorthodox, egalitarian, unqualified but successful therapist, Australian Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). Logue, ironically, is a failed actor.
There is humour in the hard work involved in Logue’s helping Bertie. Logue’s methods include his royal patient singing and swearing volubly to help him relax. Amazingly, all of this is historically accurate and not fanciful, and so too is the recreation of the King’s successful September 1939 radio speech to the Empire in a tiny sound-proofed room rather than at a kingly desk, as the staged PR photos suggested.
Despite the attention to detail (the film punches way above its £4.5m budget), clever dialogue and first rate performances, the narrative arc is a familiar one, reminiscient of The Helen Keller Story: triumph over adversity and disability thanks to love and endurance. Even Churchill (Timothy Spall) admits to the King that he too had had a speech impediment as a child, 'but I, ah, turned it into, ah, an asset'.
This reviewer prefers Rush’s quietly roguish performance to that of leading man Firth's, even if the latter is garnering all the plaudits at present. The film has won several awards already and is nominated for seven Golden Globes.
I bow to no man in my admiration for Tom Hooper’s nine part TV series John Adams, but the simple combination of the words 'disability' and 'royal' make The King's Speech almost automatically an awards winner. If Emily Blunt (Queen Victoria) had played Young Victoria in a wheelchair, one might presume that she too would have won a gong or two.