Wonderful true life story about the struggle of the Duke of York to overcome his stutter and speak in public. I remember reading about it years ago thinking “that would make a good TV anthology entry” – because he had his stutter at the 1925 exhibition (which makes the opening scene here), hired Lionel Logue, then recovered enough to open Parliament in Australia in 1927. But the writer cleverly gets a feature film out of it by making Act Two about the abdication of Edward VIII; this is meaty stuff which hasn’t been dramatised on screen for a while, and seeing from the perspective of George VI gives it freshness.
Superb acting from the three principals: Geoffrey Rush was born to play Logue, a frustrated actor (watch how rubbery his face is when he does vocal warm-ups) and kind man, with a very Australian mixture of irreverence yet still obedience to the crown; Colin Firth has the role of a life time a George, because it fits in with his stuffy, uptight Darcy persona (the only sort of roles he used to be able to play well), but gives him flamboyant edges of a speech impediment and royal neuroses; perhaps best of all is Helena Bonham Carter, because she has the least flashy part: a woman who loves her husband, has a wicked sense of humour and a strong sense of duty and obligation, very much aware of her place in the world (there’s no way she’s going to accept Mrs Logue’s invitation to dinner, she tells people very firmly how she wants to be addressed, she is a complete bitch to Walls-Simpson because she does not belong in that world).
Supporting actors are good, especially Guy Pearce as the idiotic Edward VIII, a man born for the tabloids and not to be king. (George MacDonald Fraser once pointed out that in England’s history, in times of crisis the right man seemed to step forward – he was talking about the Battle of Flodden, but he could have easily been talking about George VI in World War Two. Imagine Edward VIII in charge! Yuck!) It’s a shame an Aussie actor couldn’t have been found to play Mrs Logue instead of Jennifer Ehle (she does her best with the accent but doesn’t quite nail it); but we can’t complain too much considering Guy Pearce takes a role which could have gone to an English actor.
There was Australian money in this, and I’m glad – for it is an Australian story as much as an English one (George VI was our monarch after all). The Americans could have gotten their hands on this, and turned Logue into a Yank; can you picture the ghastly treatment. “Come on, Bertie – talk to me – talk to MEEE!!!! Tell me about your father – get out of the room I’m talkin’ to my friend here!!!” Ugh!
Wonderful design – although couldn’t the Logues have lived in a nicer flat? – which feels period but doesn’t feel “period film”. Well handled by Tom Hooper; great climax involving the speech.