The King’s Speech, thanks to the performances of the cast and direction of Tom Hooper (director of HBO’s John Adams and The Damned United) managed to draw me in and root for royalty.
This is the true story of George VI (Colin Firth) and his battle to overcome a speech impediment. Poor at public speaking due to nerves but required to do it anyway, Prince Albert, thanks to the support of Queen Elizabeth (Helena Bonham-Carter), begins a course of therapy with unconventional Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). It is therapy desperately needed as the death of his father and the abdication of his brother (Guy Pearce) mean that he will ascend to the throne and become King George VI of Great Britain and the Empire just before World War II.
This period biopic seeps with history. Beginning in 1925, intertitles inform us of locations whilst acting as a ticking clock counting down to 1939, World War II and, of course, The Kings Speech.
From the start, Tom Hooper uses excellent framing to convey the weight of history and expectation on Prince Albert with every public engagement.
Watch Prince Albert deliver the opening speech in front of the huge crowd is mortifying because Tom Hooper’s direction has established the weight of humanity around the stadium and, through contrast shots, how difficult it is for Prince Albert to speak.
Hooper’s skill makes a film about speaking, therapy and memory compelling and funny. This is down to keeping a snappy rhythm and capturing fine acting.
Firth as the Prince evinces sympathy through his performance. Capable of being haughty yet really vulnerable, brow beaten by those close to him yet loyal to his family, Firth’s performance exudes a sense of duty and bravery as he finds events thrust upon him. As a result every throat spasm and stutter is used not for comedy, as is usual in films, but sympathy as he has to labour through speeches whilst drowning in embarrassment.
Our sympathy for his circumstances raised, we root for him to overcome his speech impediment. Geoffrey Rush is the chap who will get him through. His Australian brio and confidence overcome deference but he too is vulnerable to barbs about being from the colonies.
It is enjoyable watching Firth and Rush as the two verbally spa with each other and become genuine friends. Helena Bonham-Carter as Elizabeth is also a source of wry amusement and wit, always showing support to her husband.
It is one of those tales of Royalty finding a genuine friend in a commoner. The rapport between Firth and Rush humanises the film and makes it compelling instead of a dry and dusty history programme. A great film indeed.