The King's Speech

THE KING’S SPEECH. Starring:  Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Jennifer Ehle, Michael Gambon, Derek Jabobi, Guy Pearce, Timothy Spall, Anthony Andrews and Eve Best. Directed byTom Hooper. Rated M (Coarse language). 111 minutes.

There aren’t many films about which a normally reserved film reviewer can say with absolute confidence: everyone is going to enjoy this movie. But The King’s Speech is one of those exceptions.

A glossy, character-focussed drama about the relationship between Bertie Windsor (the future King George VI) and his Australian speech-therapist Lionel Logue, the film is cleverly titled, and begins with Albert, Duke of York (Colin Firth) at Wembley Stadium in 1925, standing tongue-tied in front of a microphone, in the presence of literally thousands of loyal but inevitably disappointed Britons.

Tall and personable, with a wife he adored and two delightful daughters, Prince Albert had everything going for him, with the exception of imperious, demanding parents, onerous public duty, and a stammer. As second in line to the throne, there were only a handful of occasions when he was called upon to address the public personally. But with the arrival of radio, and its threatened ability to reach into every home in the nation, all this was about to change.

The Duke of York’s public shaming in front of the microphone is excruciating to watch, and as Albert, Firth now as before confirms himself as an actor of rare talent, with a unique ability to get beneath the skin of any character he portrays.

Equally well-drawn is Helena Bonham Carter as Elizabeth his wife, (later the Queen Mother), whose good nature, common-sense practicality and devotion to her husband causes her to seek help from an unlikely saviour, Lionel Logue, a second-rate Shakespearean actor, with an uncanny insight into public performance, and what makes people tick.

Geoffrey Rush is splendid as Lionel, the likeable, complex Antipodean who doesn’t find the social necessity of servility in the presence of royalty easy, and director Tom Hooper (Red Dust, The Damned United, and a host of first rate television dramas) is to be applauded, not just for his focussed, imaginative directing, but his choice of actors.

The depiction on screen of the relationship between Albert and Lionel is a joy to watch, and when Rush is absent, he is missed not simply because his presence is commanding and his interpretation of his character so idiosyncratic and original, but because everything in the story is dependant on the two very different men’s close, combustible relationship.

Also riveting and believable are the performances of the other actors: Guy Pearce as the rarefied, emotionally remote King Edward VIII (later, the Duke of Windsor); Derek Jacobi as the haughty and disdainful Archbishop of Canterbury Cosmo Lang; Timothy Spall as the once-speech-impaired Winston Churchill; and Anthony Andrews (Sebastian in Brideshead Revisited) in a welcome return to film as Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin.

The King’s Speech was originally written as a stage play, and David Seidler’s translation of his play into an uplifting film about the transformation of Albert the stutterer into the universally admired King George VI, father of the present Queen (shown in a delightful snapshot as a little girl alongside her young sister Princess Margaret), is very apt, the writer himself having been a stutterer.

Mrs Jan Epstein is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.

Paramount

Out December 26 2011.