It’s time I admitted the truth to myself: I love movies about royalty. This is odd because I’m not overly fond of the monarchy; I feel that it belongs to the past and I sympathize with those who would like to remove Elizabeth and her kin from Buckingham Palace (not to mention Sandringham, Balmoral Castle, and so on). Still, I have an affinity for the pageantry and the rich history culled from the lives of monarchs. This probably started with the tragic story of the Romanovs, but I’ve also been fascinated with Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Victoria, and now, it seems, King George VI.
Truth be told, I knew little about the man who began life as Albert Frederick Arthur George on December 14, 1895, the second son of King George V (who bore more than a passing resemblance to his cousin, the doomed Tsar Nicholas II of Russia) and Queen Mary, other than the fact that he was the current Queen Elizabeth II’s father, and that he died relatively young (at the age of 56 in February, 1952).
My attraction to Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech came primarily from my enduring love for Colin Firth, but also from curiosity about the life of “Bertie”, the reluctant king.
As King George V’s second son, Bertie was not destined to become king. However, when his elder brother, King Edward VIII (played in The King’s Speech by Guy Pearce) abdicated the throne in order to marry his twice-divorced American lover, Wallis Simpson (Eve Best), Bertie had the title thrust upon him. Adding to the pressure and expectation was a long-hidden secret: Bertie suffered from a debilitating stutter for which there seemed to be no cure. This is the story that The King’s Speech tells, centering on the doctor-patient relationship between Bertie and speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), an Australian who uses unconventional methods to cure Bertie of his affliction, hopefully in time to provide his country with words of strength and resolve at the outbreak of World War II.
Helena Bonham Carter plays Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (The Queen Mum), Bertie’s wife and greatest supporter. While I’ve never warmed to Bonham Carter prior to this role, she plays Elizabeth with just the right balance of patience and steely determination that she became one of the film’s greatest assets. Rush’s Logue, too, is a study in steadfast support. But The King’s Speech ultimately belongs to Firth, and his performance as King George VI is a masterclass performance. Not only must he convincingly play a stutterer, but he must handle the emotional weight of the story as well.
Firth has long been one of my favourite actors, having become the ultimate Mr. Darcy in the BBC production of Pride and Prejudice (look out for Jennifer Ehle — Elizabeth Bennet — and David Bamber — Mr. Collins — in small supporting roles in The King’s Speech), along with his roles as Mark Darcy in the Bridget Jones’ Diary movies and Jamie Bennett in Love Actually, but it wasn’t until his heartbreaking performance in last year’s A Single Man that he really started to garner the critical acclaim that he deserves. As Bertie in The King’s Speech, Firth has reinforced his notice to the critics that he is a force to be reckoned with. The performance is simply brilliant, and while The King’s Speech is certainly a fine film even without taking that into account, with him, it becomes majestic.