It is said that the late Roy Castle once sang, danced, trumpeted and juggled at the old Glasgow Empire, famous for its heckling. In the unaccustomed silence between segments 3 and 4 of his act, a reverential wee voice piped up “Is there no end to this man’s talents?” Thus I salute Colin Firth’s latest outing.
After a masterful, beautiful, extraordinary performance as a 1962 Gay professor in A Single Man, he has now scaled most triumphantly the toff end of the Repressed Brit spectrum with The King’s Speech, an everyday tale of 1930’s Palace Folk. It contains of galaxy of UK character actors playing historic personages they don’t actually look like, but do it so well you don’t notice. Timothy Spall’s Churchill shines out particularly, but Stanley Baldwin or Cosmo Gordon Lang fans will also be impressed. Helena Bonham-Carter’s Young Queen Mum (before she hit the betting shops and gin) is amazing. This is the character list as it should have looked, not as it did. Why even Westminster Abbey looks like Ely Cathedral. However it is faultlessly acted, carried off in real style, and atmospherically rendered with the kind of production values associated with the old Merchant Ivory brand.
Here’s the skinny. George is the overbearing “Spit it out, boy!” Emperor King, the only character in the film who does look like the original. His two sons are embarrassingly different. David has charisma, but some unfortunate bedtime habits, a selfish nature and a thin fascist streak. Bertie is profoundly honourable with the will and talent to represent and serve his people, a pretty useful life skill in a man who would be king.
However Bertie also projects zero charisma, largely because of his disabling stutter. For a 1920’s naval officer this was manageable, indeed in an age when most signalling was conducted by Morse code, it could even have been an advantage. With wireless in the home, however, it is not enough to look like a king. You have to sound like one in people’s living rooms. An embarrassing own-goal at Wembley reveals that making love to a microphone is something Bertie could sooner get pregnant than reliably manage to do.
Enter Mr, not Dr, Lionel Logue, an Australian self-taught speech therapist with no qualifications but some world war one experiences and a ton of breezy antipodean freshness. This enables him to address the real Bertie directly, and unlock his voice through the transformative medium of friendship.
At the heart of every legendary working partnership is honest friendship based on equality, even, nay especially, if one partner is the King. King and Commoner work at it together. On the big day Bertie scores a bulls eye and really earns a chaste but sincere peck on the cheek from his Mrs. Civilisation is saved. What’s not to like? I defy anyone to leave the cinema without a heart full of warm cockles.
Acting is spot on, execution and cinematography is extraordinary, story is strong, even though everyone knows how it’s gong to end. Commercially minded execs may point out there’s not much scope for a “King’s Speech 2” unless some jaded studio hack comes up with a storyline where Hitler develops a speech defect and personally sends the schmutzigedutzend to kidnap Mr Logue. This would yield more action, perhaps, but less human interest. Fervent republicans may simply dislike the subject matter, perhaps, which certainly belongs to another age. What you see is what you get. However this film is a wonderful achievement, and manifestly deserves a chestful of gongs, ribbons, gold rope, and silver elephants on chains every bit as impressive as his majesty’s. 4.99 out of 5.