We British love a tale of human struggle and perseverance, and Colin Firth’s portrayal of King George VI in the Oscar-tipped The King’s Speech taps into our Great British psyche with perfection.
Director Tom Hooper has woven a filmic masterpiece, incorporating royalty, an underdog and biting satire to tell the most beautifully English story hitherto left untold. The film traces Bertie’s journey towards a surprise kingship, after his infamous brother, Edward VIII, abdicated the throne so that he could marry his twice-divorced lover, the American Wallis Simpson. Impeded by younger sibling syndrome and a stammer, King George VI never believed that he was going to be king. His deeply introverted ways and seemingly unshakeable inferiority complex are painted with empathy and accuracy, leading us with nervous anticipation towards his assumption of the throne. After the indulgent ways of his elder brother lead with spiraling inevitability into royal ruin, the now king is forced to press on with a heart-wrenching character rectification.
Much of the film’s magic is in the friendship that blossoms between the king and his speech therapist, Lionel Logue, played by Geoffrey Rush. Intertwining the frustration of an unwilling king with the temperamental tantrums of a little boy, Hooper’s direction of Logue is responsible for much of the film’s humour and humility. He draws a performance from Firth which is nothing short of magical; even through mouthfuls of marbles and whisky, Firth gives the performance of a lifetime. His satirical comments on the nature of the monarchy and high society are what give the film its bite, whilst Logue’s acute tactics bring the king out of the duke utterly believably.
Palpable tenderness is also injected through the relationship that George shares with his wife Elizabeth, shrewdly played by Helena Bonham Carter. Her irreverent poise and infallible care for her husband underpin the partnership that Logue and Bertie forge, whilst also sustaining the relationship that the king has with his daughters.
As the new king is forced into a landmark speech to pronounce the beginning of World War II at the end of the play, there is a growing sense of national suspense and expectation amongst the cinema audience. We desperately hope that King George is able to fulfill the duties of his role and finally dismiss the stammer that has plagued him throughout his life. As Logue stands by, he cajoles a captivating and authoritative performance from the king and, in doing so, incites the relief of a nation and a tantilising pride in audiences across the world. I never thought Colin Firth would teach me what patriotism feels like. Turns out I was wrong.