It seems like a no-brainer. Colin Firth + Royal family secrets + cute children + soppy soundtrack = box office smasher. Only in the obvious cos-it’ll-make-gran-cry kind of way. And probably do that annoying British film thing that Eddie Izzard talks about where it’s just a load of people walking into rooms and staring out of windows and then saying they have to go. As he says, “you can’t eat popcorn to that.” Still, I suppose that’s better than the American version where the King would probably throw a grenade at someone, get kicked in the face and fuck someone’s wife. Instead, we are presented with a very British film, detailing George VI’s crippling speech impediment and how it affects him throughout his father’s death, his brother’s abdication, his eventual coronation and the lead-up to the Second World War.
I suppose the truth is there is a lot of staring and “things unsaid” in this film. And the soundtrack is unbelievably soppy. And some of the dialogue – particularly in Westminster Abbey when Logue gets the King so angry he ends up bellowing “I HAVE A VOICE!” – is just a little bit sick-in-my-mouth cheesy. But these small, somewhat cynical things aside, this is surely one of the finest, most delicate films I’ve seen in the past few years.
It’s the kind of film that draws you in and makes you tingle a bit all the way through because you know you are viewing something rather special, with performances that are so all-encompassing that I did utterly forget where I was for long periods of time. Colin Firth is sublime as Bertie: obviously a lot of people will be going to this film purely because it’s his face on the poster, and yet it didn’t for one moment feel like the film was about Colin Firth doing a film – he was every bit the reluctant King and parts of his dialogue were incredibly moving. Helena Bonham Carter as Queen Elizabeth was prickly but still sympathetic, but the surprising star of the picture was Geoffrey Rush as the inspirational Lionel Logue: his warmth was infectious, and he controls his character was the utmost precision, getting it spot on every time.
The film is also unexpectedly funny, and not at the expense of the poignant story being told. The writing is in places deliciously ticklish in a pleasingly understated way (helped no end by the leading cast members’ performances, of course); it doesn’t make you explode into fits, but even better than that is the warm, soft laughter that bubbles up gently from your middle and lingers for long moments. For the more immature among us, the King’s technique of swearing in between words in order to get his speech moving is some of the least subtle but most amusing comedy in the film – as my housemate said “there wasn’t a fuck, shit or bugger I didn’t enjoy.”
In fact, every moment of this film is enjoyable, with not a second wasted. As clever in it’s use of silence as it is in it’s dialogue, there is a fantastic balance between humour, tenderness, frustration and tension. I felt like I held my breath throughout the entirety of the King’s final speech, and I hope the next speech we hear Colin Firth recite is one of acceptance at this year’s Oscars.