The King’s Speech (2010) – A Film Review
In terms of how to win golden statuettes and influence middlebrow tastes, director Tom Hooper provides a master-class here with this heart-warming tale of triumph and unlikely friendship, set against a backdrop of familiar history and famous actors swanning about in period dress. Indeed, cross the humour-laden “ugly duckling-to-a-swan” of My Fair Lady (1964) with the “aren’t-they-queer” of The Queen (2006), feature some lukewarm moments of crisis, remember to end on a feel-good note, and you end up with this decent, occasionally amusing, and entirely inoffensive work. That is, of course, unless you are someone who is readily irked by people bowing and scraping to a bunch of pompous, emotionally-buggered dullards who treat wealth, privilege, and the subservience of others as a birthright! However, who could ever think like that, right?
Now, Colin Firth unsurprisingly plays the short-tempered but well-intentioned prince with a speech impediment impeccably well. At the same time, we must acknowledge that he has rarely strayed during his career from playing some form of dashing-but-decidedly-repressed male character. Meanwhile, his co-star Geoffrey Rush is suitably agreeable as the film’s antipodean version of Henry Higgins, with his emotional speech about how he learned to cure stammering representing one of the highlights of this film. At the same time, the School of Gross Caricature is likely to want its version of Winston Churchill returned unharmed, whilst several of the studio sets looked surprisingly shabby and artificial for what is otherwise quite a gonglorious offering.
To the director’s credit, his film does draw out the private, human side of Bertie/George VI, as he struggles to come to terms with his responsibilities as a monarch whilst suffering from his inability to speak once nervous. In particular, Mr. Firth captures quite convincingly the frustration, forlornness and fear of a man chained to repeated and inescapable public humiliation. In one scene, the newly-crowned king even breaks down and sobs about how all he knows is to be a naval officer. However, even as HRM enjoys a relatively gratuitous victory lap at the end, there is that gnawing awareness here that it will be the sons of the Lionel Logues of this world who will now be getting marched off to do the real fighting. Now, Bertie did see some minor action during the 1916 Battle of Jutland. However, it still smacks of hollow sycophancy when his character here is assured by Logue that he is this incredibly brave person, when so many, many young working-class men shall soon be enduring such terrible hardship and suffering in a war that has been started by a thuggish dictator whom many in in the British upper classes actually admired.
As a final thought, is it not a shame that the part of Bertie/George VI could not have been played by someone with an actual speech impediment? As the character of Churchill implies in one scene, many people in the public eye have had to cope with and overcome this affliction. Accordingly, given the paucity of serious-minded films on this theme, was this not the perfect vehicle to celebrate one such person’s individual triumph? Goodness knows, we had to endure Mr. Rush’s real-life penchant for frightful renditions of Shakespeare here on more than one occasion!