Written by Vicki Thurley
Speeches are not The Duke of York’s (Colin Firth) strong point, and when watching Hitler on a projected film giving a confident and flawless one, the prince himself says “He seems to be saying it rather well”. Firth has once again stepped into the period drama limelight, this time with an unpredictable temper and arrogance; unlike his charming and pleasant personality in Bridget Jones’ Diary (2001) and Love Actually (2003), he battles to become a leader and adjust to the world of wireless radio. As the future of a troubled nation lies on the future King George VI’s hesitant tongue, his wife Queen Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) must search for a successful doctor to cure her husband of his problem.
Helena Bonham Carter gives a familiar sarcastic rendition, most often through her raising eyebrows, however underneath the majesty’s and ma’am’s (“like ha-am”), she is gentle and charming; her amusement in simple situations such as getting into a lift is entertaining, as she also becomes a key piece of the solution. She holds dedicated belief in her husband throughout the film, and comforts him in one particular emotional scene as he breaks down and cries “I’m not a king, I’m a naval officer, and it’s all I know”. These emotional scenes do not make an appearance until further on in the film when Prince Albert’s brother King Edward VIII abdicates the throne; and as the frightful beginning of World War II is upon them, Alexandre Desplat, the composer for the recent Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I (2010), uses soothing piano pieces to convey the new King’s frustration, alienation and distress.
Witty and just as conceited, Geoffrey Rush gives a commendable representation of the Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue, whom encourages the prince to swear, dance, sing, repeat tongue twisters and have his wife sit on his chest. This is where the light-hearted and comical parts of the film take their place, as Logue even pushes Prince Albert to say the “F” word, “F-F-Fornication!” There is a clever contrast in his first session, as he makes the striving prince read from Romeo and Juliet, quoting “To be or not to be”, a fine question for the ambivalent, stammering, soon to be king.
There are parts of Rush which resemble his Captain Barbossa in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003), especially his back-chat, specifically when arguing that Prince Albert should not smoke, which he justifies by saying his physicians tell him it relaxes the throat, to which Logue replies “They’re idiots”, the prince arguing that they have been knighted, and Logue stating “Makes it official then”. Their friendship blossoms as their class divide is pushed aside, Logue considering them to “be like equals in this room” and Firth’s character genuinely reaches out for help, nevertheless the audience need to have patience with him until he asks for it.
There are also various brief moments starring Michael Gambon as King George V, who in flashbacks shouts at his son to read the Christmas speech, forcefully telling him to “just do it”, and a selfish role of Prince Albert’s brother Edward VIII (Guy Pearce) who abandons the throne for the woman he loves, a divorced one at that, and who spitefully mocks his brother for his stammer. This gives the audience some historical context into the prince’s background; he had no real childhood, and the importance of the family he now has. The pressure to lose his stutter is also portrayed well through the camera; low angled shots often captured with a fisheye lens contracts the scene, making the other characters eagerly awaiting the speech appear intimidating, and this is what encourages the audience to feel so sympathetic towards Firth. For an actor to allow himself the struggle to speak at all is a fine actor indeed, and Firth’s stammer is so convincing that this royal drama is worth waiting for the moments of triumph.