Colin Firth may be receiving the plaudits and the awards, but Geoffrey Rush is the glue that holds this spellbinding film together.
Firth does provide a mesmerising performance as chronic stutterer Prince Albert “Bertie” (the future King George VI). Shying away from the limelight and especially the advances of radio due to his stutter, he and his wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) do seek out professional help and finally find themselves at the last resort: an Australian man in shabby offices: Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush).
Typically cynical, I had expected the rave reviews to be either misplaced and/or exaggerated. A movie about someone who needs an inspiring yet unorthodox teacher to overcome adversity is not one that really appeals to me. But the subtlety of the direction from Tom Hooper and the performances drew me into a world that should be so far detached from real life to become abstract and made it familiar and emotionally engaging.
Without banging the drum about how important the British realm was or how the Royal family are the flagship of our nation, the King’s Speech becomes fascinating family drama. The Royal family do come across as distant and cold, not just from their subjects, but from each other. Something that could be perceived as a nod to today’s Royal family’s reputation.
Bertie has many demons to conquer, not least due to his traumatic childhood and his stifling life inside the family’s “firm”. He is uptight, defensive and simmering with rage and frustration from his condition, but he continues to seek help even when seemingly at rock bottom. In the movie, this determination to succeed comes from the love and affection shown by his wife and children.
And in meeting Lionel, he meets his match. Lionel, an Australian immigrant plying his elocution lessons whilst pursuing an ambition to act mirrors Bertie in many ways: Where both have loving wives and children and both suffer the frustration of wanting to express themselves and be heard. However, Bertie is calmness personified and his experience within the field of elocution serves him well, as he finds the right buttons to press and does so with glee, much to Bertie’s annoyance. Lionel stands on no ceremony and he understands that taking Bertie out of his stifled world and into his own will enable him to progress.
The subtlety in Geoffrey Rush’s performance is a joy. It would have been so easy for anyone in such a role to have chewed the scenery to bits being every bit as eccentric as the script could allow him to be. Rush or rather scriptwriter David Seidler, instead, opts for nods and smiles and the merest hint of movement that shows as much as any long monologue could. The scenes in which Bertie and Lionel verbally spar are the standout moments of the film. The respect and friendship between the two develops before your eyes.
Tension is provided by the well documented turn of events that make Bertie become King George VI and the speech he needs to make on the eve of World War 2 to an expectant nation seeking guidance an historical time.
To me the film is all about Rush and Firth. Helena Bonham Carter, so often an aristocrat for hire, also performs well, providing a human glimpse into the future Queen Mum’s life. Michael Gambon provides some bellowing as King George V and Claire Bloom offers a cold-hearted view of Queen Mary. Guy Pearce looks the part as Edward VIII, but perhaps he was hanging around with Geoffrey Rush between takes, as his accent drifted south a few times.
On the face of it, I would have thought that this movie would be a glimpse into the lives of people that I am indifferent to. Instead, it is a surprisingly funny and emotionally charged tale of friendship.
My Rating: 4/5