Richard and Judy's Blog

Review of The King's Speech

Friday 21 January 2011

Rather like the story of the Titanic, everyone knows how this tale ends too, but if you’d rather not read what I have written just the same, stop reading after the paragraph that concludes with the words:

“(Christ help me, indeed). He can also be very funny.”

OK? Your call.

“So...this is for everyone who can’t decide whether or not to go and see The King’s Speech. Go, good people! It’s one of the best films either Judy or I have seen for years and I cannot wait to see it again. That good.

You all know the premise: it is 1925 and the Duke of York – who will one day be King - has an horrendous stammer. Not just the odd stutter or strained pause: we are talking about a total breakdown in speech, sometimes for minutes at a time.

The film opens with a searingly-portrayed event that happened in real-life. The Duke’s father, the present King, had delegated his youngest son to make a speech to mark the closing of a huge public event. Not only did he have to address an arena packed with thousands, the whole damn thing was being relayed live by BBC radio to the listening Empire: a global audience of millions.

So no pressure then, Sir.

Colin Firth should get an Oscar for the opening scene alone. (I am not joking). He barely has a line, but the expression on his face and his heavy, hesitant physical movements are the very epitome of a man in the grip of dread and despair. He looks utterly, utterly miserable as he drags himself down the stadium’s corridors and ante-rooms towards the podium with its terrible microphone. The great and the good surround him for this important public occasion: they try to reassure him all will be well and he will make a fine speech, but their words simply cannot pierce the fog of terror that enshrouds him.

He is a man in the last stages of hopelessness, walking, he knows, to certain doom.

The brilliance of Firth’s performance is that, like the Duke on that dreadful day, he tries to hide all this. He tries to appear calm and unemotional. But the churning fear inside him leaks out of his eyes and drips from his oh-so-slightly trembling fingertips. Your heart bleeds for him. But even this haunting depiction of a condemned man does not prepare you for the appalling two minutes of global humiliation that now begin.

He hauls himself at last to the lecturn and, for the first time, makes eye contact with the huge crowd stretching away from him. He is appalled. You can see what he is thinking, as clearly as if he has said it aloud.

‘Oh Christ help me.’

Simultaneously the little red transmission light on the podium blinks once, twice, three times... and then stays alight.

He’s on.

After what seems like an eternity, two words.

‘Mm-mm-mm-my father...’

And that is all. He will say nothing else, other than a series of desperate, straining, staccato grunts and groans and parps and peeps, all horribly, sadistically amplified by the stadium’s P.A. The weird noises echo around the ground, and spill out into the streets beyond. And are, of course, broadcast around the planet, courtesy of a fledgling BBC.

But what begins as a horror film soon turns into a love story. Not the love between Firth and Helena Bonham Carter, who plays his devoted and adoring wife, the young Queen Mother; but the love that slowly develops between Firth and Geoffrey Rush, as Logue, the Australian speech therapist the Duke turned to in despair when all other treatments ended in abject failure.

The love between the two men is not, of course, in any sense homoerotic. It is rather the deep bond of trust and mutual respect that slowly builds as they negotiate their tricky relationship. The Duke is irascible, impatient, hot-tempered and self-hating. Logue is gentle, forgiving, endlessly patient and almost Christ-like in his forbearance when his patient behaves with appalling rudeness. (Christ help me, indeed). He can also be very funny.

The final scene is the perfect antidote to the first. This is the King’s Speech itself: the most important one the former Duke ever had to make. Britain had gone to war with Germany and the people were determined but afraid. The King had to rally them – and the Empire – with a ringing call to arms. But would it be 1925 all over again?

Well, we all know the answer to that. But here Rush has a scene to match Firth’s opener. Logue was the only other person in the room when the speech was delivered, live, to the world, and Rush has him as a conductor. He stands a pace or two from the other side of the microphone, lovingly guiding his friend face-to-face through the ordeal of a lifetime. He cajoles with his hands, mouths silent prompts (including, at one point, multiple F-words) and smiles like a beatific angel on the increasingly confident King. It is a wonderful, wonderful scene and moves most people who see it to tears.

Afterwards, triumphant, the two men walk side by side to the room where the great and the good (including Churchill) are sitting, almost delirious with relief themselves.

‘You only stumbled on the one word, Bertie,’ says Logue.

His friend flashes a grin at him. ‘Yes, well I had to let them know it was me, didn’t I?’”

Add a Comment
  • Colin Firth is good and last half hour of film was lovely but to be honest am in no rush to see it again. When films are hyped soooo much, like this one has been, I always get a touch of 'Emperors New Clothes' syndrome and come away thinking "am I missing something"? 127 hours was way better in my opinion!

    priscillajoy

  • I thought it was brilliant. I remember George VI and the affection in which the country held him during and after the war. Pity Firth didn't look a bit more like him, for people like me, but for others it wouldn't matter. I downloaded the book on my Kindle that evening and finished it yesterday - a lot more background, and equally enthralling.

    Lilian Harry

  • I've filled up just reading Richard's review and reliving what I thought was the best film I have seen in many years. I've seen it twice - within 3 days and could have easily sat through it again. The performances of Firth and Rush were so believable; so endearing and tugged at the heart strings throughout the whole film. Go to see it - and on the big screen.

    Liz

  • totally agree with everything you say . A must see. I haven`t enjoyed a film as much as this for a very long time. I couldn`t pick any faults in any scene or performance. The only thing is that it was over too quickly. Deserves all the awards its going to get .

    meg smith

  • Great film, great review.

    Helen Gregory

  • Oh, I so totally agree with you. It was a wonderful story of perseverance and of overcoming of the difficulties he faced from beginning to end. Colin Firth was superb as the anguished royal and I'm afraid when he gagged on those marbles I empathetically gagged with him!

    Elizabeth

  • I hadn't been at all excited about seeing the film, my curiosity and admiration of the cast took me along.

    Superb film, it sparked emotion and gripped me like no other film for a while.

    I truly wonderful film!!

    David