This enthralling treat covers some big themes and manages the trick of quoting Shakespeare – Richard III, The Tempest and Hamlet – utterly playfully. Its 118 minutes whoosh by. Even the hardest of anti-monarchists will be moved by this beguiling tale.
Major plot strands include the effect of modern media on royalty, the implicit rejections imposed by being foreign in London and the socially-paralysing impact of a speech impediment, when your job means you have to speak in public. There’s even an interesting strand about challenging snobbery. Given that this film is doing a story we have seen done to death – surely there is nothing left to mine in the run up to and events of WW2 – it makes a handsome job of bringing new energy and impact to lots of well-worn seams.
Colin Firth is the Duke of York. At the start of this, in 1925, he has a stammer. His wife, played by Helena Bonham Carter, finds speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). There are so many levels on which this works.
Bertie and Lionel fizz with enormous energy and bring their relationship to life. From my memories of arduous speech therapy – I lisped as a child – it was never this much fun. But heck, that wouldn’t make a good movie, would it? The work of the therapy is made fun and psychological and musical and, for once, the psychology works.
Firth has never owned a role better and I include “A Single Man” and “Pride and Prejudice” in that comparison. Rush now has a patent on controlled anger and unorthodox methods and I think both will get Oscars for this. (Best Actor for Firth and Supporting for Rush).
Bonham Carter is extraordinary as the overly-familiar Queen Mother. I am no royalist, but I remember being told by a journalist that, when the King died in 1952, his widow felt his life was shortened by his having to become King on the abdication of his brother. This movie has that story as an explicit sub-text.
Guy Pearce is just fine as the abdicating David (although his accent does wander a little) and Eve Best is terrifc but fleeting as Wallis Simpson. Jennifer Ehle is underused as Myrtle Logue, Lionel’s wife, which is a shame. Michael Gambon creates a monster in his dying king and I am not at all convinced by Timothy Spall, who is an actor I adore, as Churchill here.
Part of the problem is that none of these people look like those they are portraying. With Firth, you forget that quickly. With Spall, you don’t.
Tom Hooper brings his excellent direction skills from “The Damned United” to this, with the feeling of movement and action pulling you along.
David Seidler’s crisp script is intelligent and compelling. There are some annoying anachronisms, in that street signs and Tube signs never looked like that and nobody used the word “kids” for children in Britain before about 1960. Other language feels modernised and loses the sense of period.
But I am not a big fan of people moving around while looking like tea cosies and this film revels in bringing a modern take to a well-worn tale.
The King’s great wartime speech lingers a little too long and the final scenes could have done without the orchestral domination and the detail. But these are quibbles about an excellent film that has loads of big ideas and heart and warmth.
There is a touch of the modern makeover show and a smidgen of “Pygmalion”. Those echo universal stories and do not offend the viewer.
The Stratford Picture House audience absolutely adored it and chattered happily afterwards, while staying silent through the entire picture. Do see this. I will buy the DVD and enjoy it again and again. It’s very special.