There are many reasons to hate Colin Firth. One, regardless of your age, there is a strong possibility that he features on your Girlfriend/Partners/Spouses laminated ‘celebrity exceptions list’. Two, he looks better than you in a Christmas jumper. Three, annoyingly, he’s just that fucking good. Sadly I missed last year’s A Single Man at the cinema however; I did manage to catch the film on a long haul flight. Despite the less than ideal viewing circumstances I quickly found myself immersed in a film driven by what, on another year, could easily have been deemed Oscar worthy. Not satisfied with one career defining performance in the past year or so, Firth is returning to cinema screens in the buzz worthy The King’s Speech and yet again, he is unquestionabley deserving of the high praise currently being lavished upon him.
As is often the case with ‘Monarch Movies’ The King’s Speech seeks to portray a human story against the back drop of more renowned, global struggles. Whilst Herr Hitler’s rise to power is for grounded early on in the film the narrative focus is very much on the man who would be King and his unorthodox relationship with Australian speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush).
Whilst King George VI’s speech impediment is relatively common knowledge its origins were, at least to me, shrouded in historical myth. What The Kings Speech does so excellently is document the numerous, possible causes of ‘Bertie’s’ impediment whilst avoiding the trappings of cinematic sensationalism. Key to this sensitivity is of course Firth’s performance. Whilst his stutter is faultless in its authenticity the real triumph of the performance is in the monarch’s reluctance to say anything at all. Throughout the film you feel his crippling self consciousness digging into you and it’s that subtle, but universal connection that keeps you gripped to a characters journey.
One thing that sets this apart from other regal outings (Elizabeth, The Young Victoria, The Queen etc) is that it is, for want of a better phrase, a buddy movie. The King’s relationship with zany speech therapist Logue forms the spine of the film. Rush’s bravado and theatrics are the perfect canvas for Firth’s more sedate performance and I would not be surprised if Rush is also there or there abouts come awards season. Finally it would be callous of me not to mention the real hero of the story. Whilst I can’t help but think it is a gift of a role, Helena Bonham Carter’s depiction of the woman known to most of us as The Queen Mum is seemingly on the nose. The strength and guile of the woman that refused to leave London during the blitz is given great testimony whilst Bonham Carter shows enough restraint to allow both Firth and Rush to flourish. Again, I would not be surprised to hear her name read out when they announce the nominations for Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
Moving on from the performances to one of the films many other impressive facets, director Tom Hooper (The Damned United) appears to have made the step from television to cinema with impressive competence. In the past I’ve found personally, that historical biopics can become preoccupied with authentic, lush settings and costuming which is great, if you like that kind of thing. However, Hooper’s film is not that kind of thing. As I said before, it’s simply the story of a young man whose destiny was not in his own hands. To ensure that the audience is not distracted from that story Hooper has painted each frame in muted, almost monochromatic colours meaning that the oft vast, palatial sets do not tear the eye from the subtle performances. This artistic choice, coupled with the stories origin as a stage play informs numerous sets throughout the film but none more so than Logue’s work shop where lots of the action plays out. The sparsely furnished room with its crudely unpainted walls functions as a perfect arena for the two men’s verbal sparring.Over the next few weeks you will undoubtedly hear much more about the striking performances, Firth’s in particular. What you may not hear so much is how funny the film is. Yes, it will move you to tears at times but this is in its bones, the most unlikely of Bromances and it has the sense of humour to back that up.
After what is a single glowing review in a veritable ocean of praise, it seems sort of stupid to recommend that you go and watch The King’s Speech, but I’m going to anyway. Go and watch The King’s Speech. If you’re sitting there thinking it doesn’t sound like your kind of thing, make your new year’s resolution ‘to try new things’ and then go and watch The King’s Speech on January 7th.