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Reviews

The King's Speech

Jeremy Clarke

Directed by Tom Hooper
Certificate 12A, 110 mins­

RKingsspeech.jpg

Bertie (Colin Firth) has a problem. His station in life (Duke of York, second in line to the throne) requires him to make public speeches - an essential skill in the 1930s with radio on the ascendency. But, as an opening scene where he screws up a live Wembley stadium broadcast address shows, he's a stammerer who can barely get through an entire sentence without lengthy pauses. For now, this is a severe embarrassment rather than anything more; the Duchess (Helena Bonham-Carter on impressive form) persuades him to see various medical advisors without success… But then the attachment of his brother Edward (Guy Pearce) to the divorced US woman Wallis Simpson threatens to throw the UK into constitutional crisis, and overcoming his apparently insurmountable handicap assumes a hitherto unseen imperative.

The final speech therapist Bertie tried was the unorthodox but highly regarded Australian Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), who insists on addressing patients by first names and uses such techniques as headphone music at full blast so a subject can't hear himself reading a speech out loud even as it's being recorded). With Edward about to abdicate, Bertie returns to Lionel for help. Lionel's relationship with Bertie - whose true identity the therapist keeps secret from the Logue family - forms the backbone of the film.

The role of Bertie - a man struggling with the difficulty of uttering words in public - would be a gift for any actor. Firth is magnificent, getting right under the skin of the Prince's frustration. Rush, who has almost as much screen time, is equally captivating.

While the film will more than satisfy those with an appetite for anything concerning the British Royals - as is well timed with the latest wedding coming up - this is not about the monarchy so much as one man's struggle with a debilitating condition. His station in life is almost incidental. The picture of Bertie's authoritarian father George V (Michael Gambon) is far from flattering, suggesting that the patriarch's cavalier treatment of his son is a major cause of his impediment. For good measure, a stuffy Archbishop of Canterbury (Derek Jacobi) is also given short shrift. The Bishop of Willesden doesn't feature. There's a sense too of Bertie's being cruelly trapped within his seemingly privileged social status, a reminder that an unequal and unjust society is bad for the supposed winners as well as the losers.

What remains at the centre is the relationship, professional and personal, of the two men. It is an unlikely story of friendship, with plenty of narrative space for their supportive wives and their children and family life. On the one hand, the film pushes all the right buttons to have Oscars written all over it; on the other, however, it's a potentially subversive drama grappling with tough psychological issues that deserves to be seen.

Jeremy Clarke