When you speak of underappreciated film actors the name Colin Firth springs to my mind immediately. The guy has been consistently wonderful throughout his career with strong performances in films like A Single Man, And When Did You Last See Your Father?, Shakespeare in Love, and Love Actually. Still despite his talent until A Single Man he had not earned any Oscar recognition. Well, I think he is now on the map and his turn in Tom Hooper’s (The Damned United) fine film will afford him his second Oscar nomination.
Since he was a young boy of four or five years old the Prince of York, George (Colin Firth), known as Bertie to his family, had stammered badly. While he was young it only caused him to be teased by his siblings and yelled at by his father, King George V (Michael Gambon – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, Part 1, Fantastic Mr. Fox). When he gets older it becomes more problematic as he is obliged to occasionally make speeches that will be broadcast via the new technology of wireless.
Bertie has tried to rid himself of the embarrassing speech impediment, but to no avail. Every expert he has visited has not been able to help him. Being a proactive woman, Bertie’s wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter – Fight Club, Alice in Wonderland) finds an eccentric Australian speech therapist named Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush – Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, Shine), who comes highly recommended. Though they stumble a little at first, Lionel and Bertie work hard together and amazingly Lionel’s unorthodox ways begin to bring about results and an unexpected friendship.
Bertie’s ability to make speeches becomes even more important after his father dies and his older brother Edward (Guy Pearce – Priscilla: Queen of the Desert, L.A. Confidential) chooses to abdicate the throne to be with a twice divorced American woman, Wallis Simpson (Eve Best – from television’s Nurse Jackie). Bertie is now, at the dawn of World War II, to become King of England. His ability to speak to the nation at this tempestuous time is imperative.
This is a film with two tour de force performances by Firth and Geoffrey Rush. I spent time during some of the scenes going back and forth about who was doing a better job. Rush has the showier part as his character is quite eccentric whereas Firth has to play the part of a reserved, though with quite a temper, member of the royal family. Like Natalie Portman with her dancing in Black Swan, Firth does a realistic job with the stammering. He does not go over the top with it, but rather makes it heartbreaking in its pauses and inability to get the words out. A wise decision. He makes this future king vulnerable, sincere, intelligent, and courageous. Bertie’s bravery is really the center of the film and it is not flamboyant in the least. This makes him all that more loveable. He is a complex man and Firth is more than up to the task.
Rush also does not overplay his character and that allows Firth the room in scenes for his struggling character. The exchanges between Rush and Firth are perfect. To round out the acting strength behind the film, Helena Bonham Carter turns in a solid performance as well as the loving woman, soon to be Queen Elizabeth, who unfailingly supports her husband through his trials and tribulations.
With all the great acting you almost forget that this is a period piece. It looks great. The clothes are beautiful, the architecture stunning and the sets add to the overall atmosphere. It all looks quite exquisite.
Tom Hooper has chosen to, like many British films, advance at an unhurried pace and that keeps it very realistic. No need to rush things when you are creating something so marvelous. He skillfully builds it up to the climax making it that much more potent. It is quite powerful a film at times and moving throughout. Made all that much more by the fact that it has a history that we are all familiar with as its backdrop. Filled with dry British wit and tender moments it is a winner in all respects. For one of the rare times at a non-film festival screening the audience broke into spontaneous, but well earned applause during the closing credits.