The royal stutterer
by Camillo de Marco
- Personal and historical events meet in this story set on the eve of WWII. A superb, multiple award-winning film by UK director Tom Hooper, starring Colin Firth
You can't be blamed for perhaps never having been moved when listening to one of the members of the royal family speak. But Colin Firth in the role of Giorgio VI delivering his call to action against Adolf Hitler should stir the soul.
Currently reigning over the UK and Irish box office, with 14 BAFTA nominations, a Golden Globe for its star and a steady march towards the Oscars, The King’s Speech [+see also:
interview: Chris Kraus
interview: Tom Hooper
film profile] looks at the relationship between Albert Frederick Arthur George, whose early life was spent in the shadow of older brother Edward (played by the ever-toned and crisp Guy Pearce), and the eccentric speech therapist Lionel Logue (an irresistible Geoffrey Rush).
In a wintery London, in Buckingham Palace, poor Principe Albert’s terrible stutter prevents him from uttering a single word at official events. The moment is a dramatic one: WWII is at the gates, the elderly King George V dies in January 1936 and is succeeded by Eduardo, who abdicates the throne in order to marry the twice-divorced American, Wallis Simpson. Albert is named king. For the most of the film, director Tom Hooper and his DoP Danny Cohen use close-ups and wide-angle lenses to force us to feel the emotional ferocity of a member of the Crown who cannot express himself, letting all his personal anxieties shine through.
The events give rise to the conflictual meeting between Giorgio VI and Logue, who come across like a pair of bickering lovers. After suffering through a series of useless court speech therapists (who force him to stuff glass marbles in his mouth and other ridiculous exercises) and various charlatans, Albert tries out the strange Australian obsessed with reciting Shakespeare in the theatre. It is the king’s energetic and intelligent wife, Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the future Queen Mother (a measured and pragmatic Helena Bonham Carter), who brings them together.
Logue is impatient, confrontational, he calls the king Bertie because he simply cannot address him as His Highness Prince Albert of York. Albert runs away, terrified. But over time a bond forms, and Logue becomes the king’s best friend and advisor.
The film evokes many smiles. The very British humour essentially belies the colonizer/colonized oxymoron. While the king is used to genuflection, the Aussie is dedicated to his brutal therapy. The sequence in which the king blurts out series of swear words to loosen his tongue is hilarious (and cost the film an R rating in the US). But it’s immediately clear to viewers that Logue’s sessions are psychoanalytical.
The film is set in 1939, the year Freud died in exile in London. Theories on the subconscious had been confirmed and many already thought stuttering to be a personality disorder and not a physical defect. Logue digs through Bertie’s childhood traumas and helps the king face the weight of his crown. By pure coincidence, Logue’s name is similar to the word logos, which Greek philosopher considered to be the manifestation of thought. And which is what the therapist wants to obtain from his royal patient. The king’s speech to his subjects is a touching moment, and can be interpreted on many levels: the affirmation of one man’s ego, the psychopathology of the leadership of a monarchy that has no real power over its people, but above all the story of a friendship based on mutual and absolute trust.
The magnificent Rush skillfully supports Firth without overshadowing him, while the latter, coming off of rave reviews for his turn in Tom Ford’s A Single Man, proves that his career is continuing to soar.
(Translated from Italian)