If the idea of watching a two-hour lead-up to an historic speech by a war-time British King doesn't grab audiences, perhaps the seven Golden Globe nominations will.
You don’t need to be a Royal fanatic or covert corset lover to appreciate ‘The King’s Speech’. The period drama is a good story, very well told about the real-life, unlikely friendship between a speech-impaired King and his irreverent Henry Higgins.
The King in question is George VI, and it's a Golden Globe-nominated performance from Firth - if this doesn't earn him an Oscar, nothing will. The speech therapist is Australian Lionel Logue, who provides 'Shine' star Rush with the opportunity to deliver another great turn and earn a Globe nod while he’s at it.
Beginning before his father's (a powerful cameo by Gambon as George V) death, the film reveals the lesser-known story of the Duke of Windsor's brother, Albert, and how he overcame his stammer to step into his brother's shoes as King. In 1936, Edward VIII abdicated the throne so he could marry the love of his life, the twice-divorced socialite Wallis Simpson. The controversy surrounding his decision only added to the pressure piled on 'Bertie', as Logue insisted on calling him.
A domineering father and a childhood spent in the shadow of his older brother left the young Albert psychologically scarred and with a stammer. The introduction of the wireless causes more problems for the young prince - the spare who would become the heir - and as the opening of the film shows, nothing fills him with more dread than public speaking. Supported by his wife (a pitch-perfect and subdued performance by Bonham Carter) desperate times call for eccentric measures and he finally succumbs to the unorthodox methods of Logue.
These include jowl-jiggling, reading aloud while listening to blaring music, breathing exercises while his wife sits on his stomach and shouting strings of profanities at the top of one’s voice. The latter costs the film a PG cert, which is a pity as kids and teens, in particular, could enjoy how this King overcomes his bullies and fears to face much greater evil in World War II.
Originally David Seidler, who also had a stammer, wrote ‘The King's Speech’ as a play and a number of the set designs have an on-stage feel, being long, narrow and boxy. His script is sharp, with excellent character development between the two leads, who have wonderful on-screen chemistry - the comedic banter flows convincingly between the two friends. Hooper’s vision, though, is a simple one, with the pared-down sets and costumes adding to, rather than taking away, from the plot and key characters.
Behind every good man is, in this case, Elizabeth, the future Queen Mother, and it’s interesting to learn a little more about the matriarch who died in 2002, aged 101. Bonham Carter also received a Golden Globe nomination for her role as the mother to Queen Elizabeth II and the late Princess Margaret.
Despite the misleading title, this is not some dusty old period drama. The scene of the rousing speech, broadcast live from Buckingham Palace on 3 September 1939 to millions of anxious and eager listeners, is excellent.
Not only do Hooper, Firth and Rush perfectly capture the nuances of the original but together they create a scene so filled with tension, suspense and anticipation that viewers may well find themselves holding their breath while they watch the King struggle to find his.
There is, however, a lot more on offer than just that historical scene: we get a rare glimpse into the possible events of these royals from behind closed doors, a hint of the notoriously strong relationship between the King and Winston Churchill and a different spin on the story of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor from the one normally touted.
After a rather disappointing 12 months of film releases, the New Year has already gotten off to a great start. The punchy script and well-paced and performed story means that ‘The King’s Speech’ should keep on wearing its Sunday best, as the film will no doubt receive impressive audiences and more accolades in 2011.