Film of the week

The Kings Speech (12A)

4.00

Starring: Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, Geoffrey Rush

It's the sort of thing we do awf'ly well. The King's Speech extends a loose succession of royal films – Mrs Brown and The Queen are its forerunners – that reflect the cockeyed vision of class in our sceptred isle. It is a vision skewed between an old deference to "the quality" and a newer democratic resistance to bowing and scraping. We no longer think of the royals as our betters; but they have just enough mystique for us to be curious about their human side. This film tickles us with the once-outlandish idea that a commoner could be – just fancy! – the friend of a king.

The king in question is George VI, formerly Albert, the Duke of York (Colin Firth), whom we first see about to address a crowd at Wembley in 1925. He looks more like a man about to step up to the gallows, for Albert is afflicted with a terrible stammer, and the large clunky microphone rearing in front of him will amplify his every tortured gulp and gasp. About him his courtiers look embarrassed, while his subjects look merely bewildered. That stammer might have become an historical footnote, but 11 years later his older brother David would, as Edward VIII, abdicate as king in order to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson. Requiring a voice to go with his untimely accession to the throne, Albert tries various quack remedies, including marbles in the mouth, but his tongue refuses to untangle.

Meanwhile, an Australian expat named Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) is failing to impress at an acting audition. He earns a living as a speech therapist in a grotty basement office on Harley Street, where one day a certain well-spoken lady arrives seeking a cure for her husband's speech impediment. She would be Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) – the future Queen Mother – and her husband, dawdling in the shadows, none other than Albert. "What should I call you?" asks Logue. "Your Royal Highness," he replies. Logue calls him "Bertie" instead, thus setting up a comedy of manners between a jolly Aussie commoner and his morose, exasperated monarch. Can impudent colonial know-how enable the royal stiff to unbend? Logue has failed as an actor, but he turns out to be a rather good director, coaxing from his fearful patient what may in time be the performance of his life.



Tom Hooper, the actual director, modestly confines the action to interiors and lets the slyly witty script, by 73-year-old David Seidler, tell its story. It is a nice touch of Eva Stewart's production design to project their duologues against the shabby, flaking wall of Logue's office, a stagey backdrop in front of which this odd couple must improvise their relationship. Logue, having established his my-place-my-rules principle, is no less uncompromising in his techniques; he discovers that Bertie, tongue-tied by decorum, can swear fluently, turning the air blue in a scene that earned a disapproving "R" cert from the US censors, but will thoroughly amuse everyone else.

Inevitably, as trust begins to bond the two men, Logue comes to play psychotherapist as much as speech therapist, uncovering a lifetime of hurt and humiliation, which Bertie has hitherto borne in furious silence. We take the hint that he has been bullied by his father (Michael Gambon as a blustering George V) and has already suffered the pointless corrective of turning his natural left-handedness to right. He seems to get on with his more confident playboy brother David (Guy Pearce, superior in manner and cheekbones), yet otherwise exudes a poignant sense of isolation. "What are friends for?" Logue asks him. "I wouldn't know," he replies.

What lifts the film, lends it a seemly dazzle, are performances of a very high order. I have been agnostic about Colin Firth for years, having watched his Darcy-esque hauteur dwindle into increasingly stiff-keyed, wooden variations: he has essentially been impersonating a wardrobe. He warmed up the emotional repression of a bereaved professor in last year's A Single Man, though he was overpraised and, in Tom Ford's exquisite clothes, frankly incredible as an academic. Here he has the brooding look of a constipated frog, with a similar vocal range, but he tempers the king's sudden bursts of rage (at one point he calls Logue "a jumped-up jackaroo from the outback") with a human sense of frailty: drawing from a deep well of melancholy, he seems to know what little fun he is. Geoffrey Rush, as the jumped-up jackaroo himself, is wonderful, a puckish foil withholding deference while gently twitting his royal master into a semblance of amity. How true this is to the men's actual relationship I couldn't say – one suspects a certain royal snobbery has been deleted to taste – but both Rush and Firth play off each other very deftly. Logue: "Do you know any jokes?" Bertie: (long pause) "Timing isn't my strong suit."

The film's two historical crises are shrunk to fit around the double meaning of "the King's speech". The first is his brother's abdication, which thrust Bertie into the public eye and forced him to find his voice. The second is the outbreak of war with Germany, when, as the film tells it, the new king committed himself under great pressure to being word-perfect for his national broadcast. Perhaps it really was like that, and radio listeners in 1939 took heart on hearing George VI's words of calm resolve. But we shouldn't exaggerate its significance, either. Don't we believe that people would have fought on exactly as they did, with or without the monarchy's encouragement?

The King's Speech is fine middlebrow entertainment, well put together and beautifully played by its leads. It tells the story of an affliction bravely overcome. It may help Colin Firth to win an Oscar. But I don't think we can say it helped us to win the war.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing