Colin Firth stutters and frets toward Oscar with The King's Speech
Firth transcends the potential gimmickry of the young George VI
England's Royal Family called George VI by the boyish nickname "Bertie" before he ascended the throne in 1937. Tom Hooper's lighthearted biopic The King's Speech reveals that before Bertie (Colin Firth) took control of the United Kingdom, he had to take control of his tongue, having struggled with a debilitating stammer for most of his life.
Firth doesn't give Bertie the standard-issue movie stutter that t-t-trips over c-c-consonants. Instead, Bertie's sentences stall out and he has to force the words out, as if he can't help censoring himself. He's like English Emotional Repression incarnate. Firth transcends the potential gimmickry of the role. Even before he opens his mouth, his posture conveys Bertie's innate dignity, and the wounded look in his eyes captures shame and self-consciousness.
After methods such as smoking cigarettes or speaking with mouthfuls of marbles fail to cure his condition, Bertie abandons hope. Then his wife, the future Queen Mum (Helena Bonham Carter), makes him an appointment with conventional therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). An Australian family man, Lionel emphasizes psychoanalysis over wacky elocution exercises, and suggests that the root of Bertie's problem lies in the House of Windsor's dysfunctional dynamics.
It's easy to imagine David Seidler's original script as a stage play as Firth and Rush volley the witty dialogue back and forth in Lionel's shabby-walled office. Shakespeare provides a recurring motif. Lionel, an amateur thespian, fails an audition for Richard III and later uses the "To Be or Not To Be" soliloquy as a means to reveal Bertie's untapped vocal potential.
The King's Speech harks back to the dawn of World War II when broadcasting became a key part of public affairs: "We've become actors," Bertie moans of the royal family's fate. Hooper affirms the value of style over substance during a major broadcast by cranking up a Beethoven symphony on the soundtrack, ensuring that the music moves the audience more than the language. The King's Speech may not speak to the same breadth of ideas as comparable films such as The Madness of King George or The Queen. But it remains a rousingly entertaining account of one man's self-actualization once he talks about his feelings. They could've called it Good King Hunting.