“The King’s Speech”. Pip-pip, toodle-oo. Jolly good show, a showcase of British stiff upper lip idiosyncrasy it isn’t. Thrust reluctantly on to a world stage by the forced abdication of his urbane, sophisticated brother, poor Bertie is ill-equipped for the age of wireless. Attempting as the then Prince Albert to speak at the British Empire Exhibition in 1925 into a black hole of wretched, pitiful, agonising stammering and sweaty verbal indecision, the silences would have filled a football stadium. A monstrous microphone, a heat-seeking metaphor for the sum of all the Prince's fears, hovers menacingly. His wife - a spectacularly understated, subtle and emotionally-rich Helena Bonham-Carter, remarkable mother to the princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, engages the services of an eccentric Australian, Lionel Logue, (Geoffrey Rush) a speech therapist operating out of a Harley Street basement. “My house, my rules. You come to me, I don’t come to you. First rule. My name is Lionel and that’s what you call me. I’ll call you Bertie”. Colin Firth as the future King George VI, looked as if he has been slapped in the face with a wet fish.
Logue realises that the underlying causes of Bertie’s affliction reside in his family’s history. Michael Gambon’s overbearing, impatient George V shows a complete lack of understanding as he imagines that all Bertie has to do is persist and he’ll somehow by dint of sheer effort of will overcome his affliction. Older brother David (Guy Pearce)– the future King Edward VIII - knows exactly how to reduce his verbally impoverished brother to ineffectual, frustrated, silent misery.
Bertie and Lionel fence and clash, agonise, sing and swear, creating together a landscape both epic and intimate.
Lionel is untrained and formally unqualified; his experience was gained in the emotional wreckage in the aftermath of the First World War. He is a failed actor, rejected for the part of Richard III by an amateur dramatics company in Putney, is given to grand gesture but is unintimidated by the blue-blood from the Palace whose entire training has been in ways to hold everything together. Logue guides his patient through the minefield of Coronation responses, ticking off a somewhat ovine Archbishop of Canterbury (Derek Jacobi) during the rehearsals. Cometh the hour, cometh the man; the film’s culminating scene is the triumphal King’s Speech of 1939, a rallying cry to an Empire to rise up, stand, and fight the menace of Nazi Germany.
The battlefields of emotional silence generated by the film are nothing short of stunning. An absolutely stellar cast includes a totally believable Churchill (Timothy Spall), who, casting off the unctuous obsequiousness of Peter Pettigrew in the Harry Potter series, is just beginning to develop the bulldog voice so beloved of a nation at war.
An avalanche of BAFTA’s must surely follow. Visually authentic and dramatically almost perfect, this one's the best by far, for a long time.