The King’s Speech comes out at the beginnings of the awards season, having already cleaned up at the British Independent Film Awards and with seven Golden Globe nominations. It looks and sounds like a big contender but at it’s heart it is a much simpler tale.
The film tells the story of King George VI (Colin Firth), who suddenly has greatness thrust upon him following the abdication of his brother (Guy Pearce). With war with Germany looming, George must find within himself the courage and the voice to lead his nation through the tough times ahead. Many failed attempts at reducing his stutter lead him to unorthodox speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). Logue’s odd techniques and the uneasy friendship that builds between the two men help George find in himself what his country demands.
The film’s trailer would almost convince that The King’s Speech is about a country facing a very dark future in dire need of a leader. It heightens the film’s thriller aspects, but The King’s Speech is not that film. It spends very little time focusing on the ‘ordinary man’ and his need for rousing calls to arms. Instead, it focuses on the unlikely friendship of George and Logue, the comic intricacies of their relationship and on George’s struggles with a debilitating speech impediment. The film is poignant and funny in equal measure, with Rush having most of the good lines and Firth playing the suffocating monarch with great delicacy. The two actors give great performances, effortlessly conveying years and years of companionship as the story takes of from 1925 to 1939.
The film thankfully dodges all the pitfalls that plague most films about disability, being a realistic account of a speech disorder. It neither patronises its lead character nor does it suggest that there is a quick and easy cure in an attempt to wrap everything up with a neat, little bow. The King’s Speech manages to be one of those rare films that attempt to raise awareness with both respect and the ability to entertain along the way.
The film’s main failure is it’s attempts to present the story of Britain. Unlike Invictus, which manages to convince that winning the Rugby World Cup would be the best thing ever for the troubled South Africa, the national context appears trite and unimportant. The film is really about two people in a room, one of them coping with a speech disorder. It hints at certain social issues, the paradox of the ‘ordinary man’ and his King who knows nothing about him, neither man knowing quite how to act around the other. This is where the heart of the film lies and no amount of cameos from Chamberlains and Churchills or panoramic views of England getting ready for war will convince otherwise. Ultimately, when George gives his final speech, we feel for his character, not the country he represents.
Nit-picking aside, The King’s Speech is a great film that cares about the disorder it is dramatizing and one with two riveting central performances. If it doesn’t have an impressive showing in the awards to come, it will be a damn shame.