John Murphy learns from the King’s Speech that he has a sieve of sifted thistles. Somewhere.
When Albert (Colin Firth), Duke of York and son of King George V (Michael Gambon), is asked to speak at the British Empire Exhibition held at Wembley Stadium, the crowd of listeners are sympathetic to the speaker and disappointed with his performance – Albert has a stammer which causes him pronounced humiliation (if you’ll pardon the pun). The increased speeches via radio required of monarchs result in his father, the King, pressurising him further to address the problem: as his father explains, monarchs must ingratiate themselves in people’s homes through the “devilish device”. They have been reduced to the “lowest, basest of all creatures” – actors.
Elizabeth (Helena Bonham-Carter) has tried several ‘specialists’ to aid her husband’s stutter, and she eventually finds Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) in the “classifieds – next to ‘French model, Shepherd’s Market’” (go figure). Enlisting his help, she hopes that Albert will overcome his fear-induced stammer and, when required, reach his full potential as the heir of the British throne.
Approaching this film with high hopes, I didn’t want to be disappointed. Was the appraisal from critics just hype? Would Colin Firth deliver a good performance? Would it be a boring historical film? Could it just be two hours of underwhelming cinema? Not a chance!
So, was the acting up to scratch? Put simply, Firth, Rush, and Bonham-Carter each offer one of their best performances to date. Guy Pearce as the, erm, ‘controversial’ successor to George V’s throne gave the impression of being younger than Albert, which, unfortunately, detracted from his position as an older brother – a fact that becomes prevalent when his father has died, and a later scene when he childishly ridicules Albert’s stammer. Michael Gambon as King George V was, unsurprisingly, the perfect actor for the role, and Timothy Spall’s appearance as Winston Churchill was a strange treat, adapting effortlessly to the role and, oddly enough, reminding me of Alfred Hitchcock…
One scene of the film which deserves a mention is when the full implication of the stammer is revealed – not during a publicspeech, but at his home. He shows great discomfort when asked for a bedtime story by his children, but his wife and children listen patiently until his tale has ended. It is a poignant scene of Albert’s love for his family, and an effective demonstration of his perseverance throughout his life. The title itself is another point of interest in that it is ambiguous: the King’s Speech relates to both Albert’s speech impediment and the ultimate speech he is to address to the British people at the end of the film.
There are many ways in which this could have gone wrong, but an incredible cast and an engaging script, combined with a harmonious soundtrack, proved this film to be a deserver of high praise (and perhaps a ‘hot-tip’ for some Oscar nominations?).
And remember, “I am a thistle-sifter. I have a sieve of sifted thistles and a sieve of unsifted thistles, because I am a thistle sifter”.