A Royal Exchange
Colin Firth gives a fascinating but little known true story the right royal treatment in the big Oscar contender The King’s Speech.
Directed by Tom Hooper - who previously helmed the TV mini-series Elizabeth I and most recently documented the career of soccer manager Brian Clough in The Damned United - The King's Speech is the fascinating but relatively unknown story about the ascension to the British throne of King George VI played by Colin Firth. George VI - or ‘Bertie' to his friends and family - was the man who did not want to be King. With a tyrannical father and what could now be regarded as an abusive childhood, he did not exactly grow up into ruler material, suffering from both a crippling lack of confidence and a pronounced stammer. When his brother controversially abdicated in 1936, Bertie was left to repair the damage by assuming the throne and leading his nation through WW2.
The King's Speech focuses on the King's relationship with the man who helped him to defeat his handicaps - Australian actor turned speech therapist Lionel Logue (played by Geoffrey Rush). For Colin Firth "perfecting" the royal stammer was a definite challenge. "It wasn't easy," the actor explains. "The stammer that George VI had was not the same anyway. Not everyone with a stammer is going through the same thing, as they would each be affected by their own personality, physiognomy and vocabulary. I made an early study of the King's speeches, the pace and the rhythm, but I didn't attempt to do a direct impersonation of him. Tom's question was what he sounded like before Logue, and there were no recordings of that."
Given the sensitivity of the subject matter, assistance from Buckingham Palace was naturally absent. "The trouble with this role," Firth explains, "is that if I was playing any other profession, I would spend time with someone in that profession. You haven't got any kings who are willing to give you a day of their time so you can do some ‘kinging' together.
"It's probably largely fictional," says Firth of the film's accuracy. "We have Logue's diaries but, because of confidentiality, they don't tell us what happened in the therapy sessions. We have people who consider themselves experts on the subject, but nobody has the full authority to tell us what the royals say to each other in the privacy of their bedroom, the car or whatever. Logue's grandson told me that the King never swore, but then I thought, ‘How do you know that?' Some of these things are for us to speculate about, and they suited the broader truth of the narrative, namely that there was a friendship that grew between these two men which helped to heal Bertie."
A prestigious production all-round, The King's Speech - which boasts a gilt-edged cast, including Guy Pearce as Edward VIII, Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill, and the genuinely blue-blooded Helena Bonham-Carter as Queen Elizabeth, later to become The Queen Mother - has been rewarded with a generally ecstatic reception from both critics and preview audiences alike. Firth has his own explanation for the film's success so far. "It's high drama," the actor explains. "The stakes feel higher. If it was any other family, it wouldn't have the resonance, but in this case it nearly toppled the government, which takes it to almost Shakespearean proportions."
The King's Speech is released on December 26. For more on The King's Speech, including insight from director Tom Hooper, be sure to pick up our huge Jan/Feb double issues on sale now!