Before The King’s Speech was released in the UK, it had already won awards, been nominated for more and had been received with resounding critical acclaim. Whether the film could live up to the hype was at the front of my mind when entering the cinema, that and the question of whether I’m really going to be able to sit through a feature-length film about the Royals?
For those of you who have had your head in the sand for the last few months, The King’s Speech tells the story of Albert, Duke of York, played by Colin Firth, who suffers from a speech impediment. The film, directed by Tom Hooper, opens with Albert trying to speak to the 1925 Empire Exhibition at Wembley Stadium. His stammer makes his words shaken up and his message unclear, leaving an awkward atmosphere in the stadium and the public looking away embarrassed.
Firth plays Albert as a man full of doom and gloom. He is short tempered, he rarely smiles, except at his daughters, and generally has the air of a destroyed man.
His wife, Elizabeth, played by Helena Bonham Carter, cajoles him into seeking various forms of therapy and supports him fully along the way. Elizabeth is, of course, the woman who we all knew as the Queen Mum. Bonham Carter plays her as we would hope, she is caring but pushy in polite way. It is almost a relief to see Bonham Carter acting well again, after being in one too many Tim Burton films.
It is Elizabeth who takes Albert to visit the speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), who ultimately changes Albert for the better. Logue is an unconventional character and far from a traditional speech therapist the King is expected to visit. For starters he is Australian, but more than that, his methods are based around finding the psychological roots of the stammer. He insists on calling Albert ‘Bertie’ (his nickname for his family) and says that they must be equals in order to work together.
While Albert undergoes his treatment, his elder brother Edward VIII, who becomes King, falls for Wallis Simpson, a twice divorced American woman. Edward is unable to retain the throne and marry a woman who is divorced, so he famously abdicates, leaving Albert to don the crown.
As war breaks out with Germany, Albert faces his biggest challenge yet, to read a nine minute speech to the public. With the help of Logue, he overcomes his speech impediment and gives a powerful speech.
Firth is, without a doubt, excellent in the film. He masters the temperament, but also the sound of someone with a stutter. He allows his character to grow and is believable in his affections towards Logue. On the acting alone, it is clear why the film has received such hype. Well, apart from the portrayal of Churchill, which is both historically incorrect and turned him into a ridiculous parody by Timothy Spall.
It doesn’t however matter how good the acting is, at its core this is the story of a King with a stutter. For a generation that aren’t the Royalists of old and one that recently saw a pop star (Gareth Gates) overcome a stutter, there just isn’t enough to stir our feelings. The King’s Speech uses the ’emotional makeover’ format that we see on TV everyday, albeit with Firth being more convincing than any reality TV star.
The King’s Speech is a feel-good film with fine acting. Any fan of the Royals or of Firth will love this story about courage and the difficulties faced by those with speech impediments. It’s also an uplifting start to a new year, which looks like it’s turning into a rather royal one.
Buy The King’s Speech on DVD on Amazon now.
Watch the trailer below.