Star rating – 8/10
It must have been an unbelievably difficult thing for a person with a profound stammer and an antipathy to the limelight to be thrust into the role of monarch as George VI was after his brother’s abdication. And it is his speech impediment, and how he overcame it with the help of his eccentric Australian speech therapist Leonard Logue, that is the subject of this sure fire Oscar winner from Tom Hooper.
The central performances are excellent, with Colin Firth getting it just right as the shy and nervous Duke of York, known to this family, and to Leonard as Bertie, who has to battle his inner demons and not only face the world for such ceremonial tortures as the coronation, but must also give rousing speeches to lead the country as it enters war with Germany. Geoffrey Rush is also great as the antipodean with no qualifications to speak of, pardon the pun, but a whole lot of experience in getting his patients who have been through traumas of various kinds to relax and gain the inner confidence that will help in turn to improve their speech. And his methods are far from orthodox.
Touching personal details are revealed in the course of the speech therapy, such as the rather cruel aspects of Bertie’s childhood, which were perhaps normal for the upper classes and aristocracy at the time, but still very moving and sad. The historical details are fascinatingly told from this other, much more personal perspective than we are used to, from the abdication crisis, to the outbreak of war.
The picture captures the mood and feel of the period very well, right down to the London smog. Elland Road was apparently used as a substitute for Wembley Stadium, and Ely Cathedral for Westminster Abbey. And it is an all star cast, with Helena Bonham Carter as the Duchess then Queen; Guy Pierce as the dashing Edward VIII who cannot resist the lure and love of Wallis Simpson; and Timothy Spall as Churchill.
Above all it is a tale of ordinary but rather extraordinary friendship, which the King had apparently not experienced before in his life. Leonard treated him like a person from the start, and insisted on their relationship being on his terms. In return he gave support and help through the exquisite torture of all the major speeches that the shy King was called on to give. It is a touching film that maybe won’t change the world, but it is highly moving, entertaining, and will surely triumph come Oscar time.