Set during the 1930s, when the British royal family were slowly making peace with the realization that the monarchy was no longer about ruling and governance but about stage managing media representations, The King’s Speech is the story of King George VI’s transition from a blubbering stutter-stricken wreck to a smooth spokesperson for the throne.
Not long into director Tom Hooper’s feel good slice of historical fiction Michael Gambon as King George V enunciates an impassioned spiel about how the royal family can’t pass policy, can’t govern, and that the media – particularly the strange beast called the wireless – has recast them as a group of actors.
Battling unsuccessfully against a stutter that has haunted him since childhood, Prince Albert aka Bertie (Colin Firth) isn’t exactly proficient in the family’s new trade, and after trying every technique at his considerable disposal he arrives desperate and flummoxed at the door of Australian Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush).
Logue is a speech therapist with unconventional techniques in the mould of, say, Robin Williams’ think-outside-the-box teacher in Dead Poets Society – the person who can get results without so much as flicking through a textbook. After the shock of being exposed to his new teacher’s approach Prince Albert – Bertie, as Logue insists he will be addressed – is compelled to stay. The patient/psychologist, teacher/student plotline runs parallel to that of Albert’s ascension to the throne due to a scandalous marriage perused by his brother Edward VIII (Guy Pearce).
Watch Geoffrey Rush and Colin Firth gobble up the running time with two greedily captivating but seemingly effortlessly rendered performances that fill out screenwriter David Seidler’s characterisations with the charisma and commanding presence of two actors at the top of their game. Firth completely convinces in his depiction of Bertie’s speech impediment and, more importantly, the balance needed to present his character’s conflicting mixture of inhibitions and bravery.
Rush relishes his role as the cocky bastard who plays his own game, dances to his own beat, and pries open the gates to Albert’s redemption through a charismatic branding of smug benevolence. The King’s Speech boasts the most effective pairing of screen actors this year, and if the words “Oscar worthy” actually meant anything – in the shadow of Sandra Bullock’s win for The Blind Side last year, we are reminded they mean very little – those words would apply unequivocally to these addictively entertaining performances.
The dramatic momentum in The King’s Speech flows far too fluidly for it to be bought in the context of historical veracity as anything other than “inspired by.” Hooper suavely and cleanly fulfils the dramatic rhythms required for interesting storytelling, a telltale sign that liberties have been taken, truth stretched. However, it’s a fool – or a person destined for disappointment upon disappointment – who measures individual scenes in recreations such as this against historical knowledge to determine artistic worthiness.
Adapting a “true” story has never been about being faithful to facts, per se; the genius lies in taking fiction and finding ways to make it truthful. This often manifests in broad strokes and emotional messages, and The King’s Speech demonstrates its brilliance in these departments in a tent pole moment in which Firth’s character, a king cursed with a most undignified of afflictions, musters up the courage to articulate an all-important declaration of WWII address to the people of Britain. We feel the gravity of the moment, not for its external ramifications – talk of a war that led to the death of millions of people – but for its personal significance in the life of one man who simply managed to spit it out.
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The King’s Speech’s Australian theatrical release date: December 26, 2010.