A deserved hit with cinema audiences, critics and Oscar voters alike, The King’s Speech takes an obscure footnote from royal history and transforms it into an enthralling human drama. The story of a stammering monarch’s relationship with his speech therapist hardly sounds a promising subject, but David Seidler’s adroit script and superb performances by Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush will keep you gripped, amused and moved.
Playing the future King George VI, known to his family as Bertie, Oscar-winner Firth has never been better. As the king-to-be struggles to overcome his debilitating stammer and fulfil his royal duties, Firth’s nuanced performance conveys testiness, pride, vulnerability and anguish, and every shade of emotion in between. Rush matches him brilliantly, portraying maverick Australian therapist Lionel Logue with wit, gusto and charm, his role becoming ever more critical after the abdication of Bertie’s dashing, irresponsible elder brother, Edward VIII (Guy Pearce), which leaves the unwilling new monarch to rally his subjects over the airwaves when war is declared with Germany. Bertie and Logue’s unconventional rapport is the movie’s heart, but Helena Bonham Carter offers regal support as the king’s shrewd consort, the future Queen Mother. Sitting on her husband’s chest as he lies on the floor as part of one of Logue’s strange exercises, she says, ‘This is actually quite good fun, Bertie.’ And so it is.
Any ordinary actor would have been wiped off screen by Rush: Firth’s performance is only enhanced by Rush’s, with both actors using the other, striking sparks off his opponent to lift their games. Set and match, then, to The King’s Speech.