Director: Tom Hooper
Cast: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Gambon, Guy Pearce
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Poor Bertie (Firth). He has to deal with something most people hate: public speaking. He fluffs his way through a speech at a twin-towered Wembley, packed full of people for the closing ceremony of the 1925 Empire Exhibition. Not a great start for the King’s second son.
The need to deliver a speech becomes increasingly important to the royals with the introduction of the wireless. “We’ve become actors,” declares King George V (His Royal Highness The Gambon). Relentlessly and cruelly badgered by his imperious father, though, the Duke of York soon becomes defined by his impediment.
And so wife Liz (Bonham Carter) scours high and low for someone who can help Bertie’s crippling stammer and eventually finds alliterative antipodean Lionel Logue (Rush) lurking around Harley Street. Logue rolls out the full Henry Higgins act in an amusing montage, which ranges from diaphragm exercises to sweary, BBFC-busting rants. Together, the pair delve into the source of the Prince’s impediments, uncovering a bruised psyche and years of familial taunting, not just from his overbearing dad but his caddish older brother (Pearce) too.
The film revolves around the idea of inadequacy and dedication to duty. The latter is shunned by sibling Edward VIII in his pursuit of twice-divorced Wallis Simpson. Focusing on the personal struggle rather than long-winded exposition, the abdication provides the impetus for the soon-to-be-King to find a cure. In the background, the build up to World War II haunts everything.
David Seidler’s bright and witty script (“Do you know any jokes?” “Timing isn’t my strong suit…”) allows the fantastic cast to shine, particularly our leads. Firth leaves all memories of tacky rom-coms far behind with a fine follow-up to his heartbreaking performance in A Single Man. By his side, Bonham Carter fills the shoes of the supportive and assertive wife amiably. Rush as Logue is effervescent, warm and funny, stubbornly refusing to call the King anything but “Bertie”. He threatens to steal the whole film until Timothy Spall turns up as Churchill.
The result is an endearing, rich and humourous piece. It recalls other historical dramas, such as Stephen Frears’ The Queen, but this is superior in tone, script and subject matter. Yes, we’ve seen this all before, but never so articulately done.
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