I just saw Colin Firth, playing Prince Albert (“Bertie” to his family, later to become King George VI), Geoffrey Rush as Speech Therapist Lionel Logue , and Helena Bonham Carter as Queen Elizabeth, the former queen Mother, in The King’s Speech. Colin Firth’s acting is superb as the stuttering prince.
How are we made to feel sympathy for the main character? We see Bertie trying to cope with the embarrassment of his stutter, and we see other people turn their heads to avoid looking at him as he makes public speeches. We learn that was made to change at the age of five or thereabouts from being left handed to being right handed, and bound into splints to stop him from being “knock kneed.” (See * below for Wikipedia on knock knees.) He and his brother were taken to their parents for the “daily viewing”, and the nanny would pinch him before they went in to make him cry. The nanny would then leave him without food. He was terrified of his father. His father shouts at him to get his words out, then tells him to relax. Later Bertie tells Logue that his father once said “I was afraid of my father and my children will be bloody well be afraid of me.” It’s little wonder that he grew up to be described by Logue as “afraid of his own shadow.” “Bertie” makes progress with his speech, but this comes undone when his older brother mocks him.
At the beginning of the film the power-play between Bertie, his wife and the therapist is cleverly done. Logue insists on seeing the prince at his own rooms, not at the palace, and tells him that it’s “my castle” and they play according to “my rules.” Desperate for a solution to their problem, the royals give in.
The sense of conflict or tension in the film comes from (i) Bertie trying to overcome his stammer (ii) the impending crisis as his older brother, the King, wants to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson, (iii) Bertie’s reluctance to assume the throne, (iv) Bertie’s feeling that Logue has become ‘too familiar’ at points, and breaks of the relationship temporarily, and (vi) Bertie’s fear, even after he takes the throne, that, because his brother is still alive, the brother may attempt a comeback.
The audience is made unsympathetic to Wallis Simpson when Bertie and his wife arrive at Balmoral or Sandringham (I can’t remember which) and Simpson refers to it as “ ‘our’ country shack.” The presumptuousness built into this line is wonderful.
I’d recommend this film as five-star material. Go see it.
* I confess I had to look “knock knees” up in Wikipedia where it is defined as: Genu Valgum, commonly called “knock-knees”, is a condition where the knees angle in and touch one another when the legs are straightened. Individuals with severe valgus deformities are typically unable to touch their feet together while simultaneously straightening the legs.