Stammering, and other speech impediments are terrible afflictions that rarely elicit sympathy. When can you last recall a movie or TV programme with a sympathetic stammerer or lisp? Bet you can recall the opposite! How about Life of Brian? “Wewease the cwiminals”
And yet our world is full of stutterers, stammerers and lispers; some of whom have overcome their problems like Bruce Willis, Tiger Woods, Julia Roberts, James Stewart; the list is endless.
Nevertheless the subject has never made it to the big screen in a serious and sympathetic form, until now.
The King’s Speech is fundamentally a British feelgood movie about stammering. It uses King George the 6th (Actually named Albert and Father of Queen Elizabeth) as the subject and sets the story against the background of a brewing and erupting Second World War.
Great Britain is facing dark days (reflected perhaps in the cinematography which is most certainly dark), King George the Fifth is on the throne but is falling into senility and his eldest son David (soon to briefly reign as King Edward the 8th) is in the midst of a scandalous affair with, gosh, An American, in the form of double divorcee Wallace Simpson. The Head of the Church of England is a role of the British monarch and that role does not allow the incumbent to marry a divorcee. But David (Edward) wants to marry Wallace more than he wants to rule Brittania. And so he abdicates leaving poor old stammering Prince Albert next in line.
Albert (played to Oscar contending levels of sustained excellence by Colin Firth) has been tackling his demons for years but has had absolutely no success and is fast becoming a recluse, albeit married to our dearly beloved Queen Mother (played with a twinkle by the ever dependable Helena Bonham Carter – surely a national treasure in the mould of Dame Judie Dench in the making). He’s pretty much given up hope , but Queen Mum hasn’t and she finds and engages the services of a Harley St quack played to perfection by Geoffery Rush.
What follows is a story about the development of a relationship and the triumph of wills married to unorthodox practices. It opens the doors to humour, pathos and a degree of tension. How could our stammering Prince become a king fit enough to stand shoulder to shoulder with Churchill as Britain takes on the Gerries?
On some levels the film woks. It feels nicely in period. The acting is universally excellent (Derek Jacobi has a nice cameo as the Archbishop of Westminster) and the story is engaging enough. The ending, which I shall not spoil for you here, although it is fairly obvious is by far the highlight of the movie and very moving indeed.
And yet…and yet. It drags. It feels slight. It has no real message other than, perhaps, the Royalty are humans too. My feeling is that this movie is a bit of a “the British are coming” industry love in. It’s actually not that great. A good (BBC) TV drama sure, but for all the hype it falls short.
Good but missable.