The film really belongs to Colin Firth, as Prince Albert Frederick Arthur George, who becomes George VI, King of England, Scotland, Ireland, Emperor of India, and titular head of the British Commonwealth, after the abdication of his brother, Edward VIII. The sheer amount of discipline required for Firth to present a painful stammer, meanwhile pitching his voice slightly up to mimic the King's, and to add a barely noticable "wubble-yu" pronunciation, must have been truly heroic. Firth's character, somewhat subdued by his frequent public embarassment and shyness, would almost be overshadowed by Geoffrey Rush's expressive and warm character as speech therapist Lionel Logue, were it not for the prince's occasional outbursts of rage and frustration.
The film is a wonderfully intimate portrait of what may be the world's most famous and influential dysfunctional family. The causes underlying "Bertie's" stammer are teased out, one by one: fear of his father, King George V (Micheal Gambon), the family tyrant, who was quoted as having said "I was afraid of my father, and by god my sons will be afraid of me," and who can't understand that shouting "Relax!" at a nervous man doesn't help; abuse by his childhood nurse; and merciless teasing by his elder brother (Guy Pearce), who is shown up as an egotistical spoiled brat. It must be noted that the dysfunction is widespread. When David/Edward breaks down weeping (mostly for himself) at the death of his father, and throws himself on his mother's breast, Queen Mary (Claire Bloom) can't bring herself to hug him, but just stands in shock as though she'd been grabbed by a stranger. For them all, the constitutional crisis is first and foremost a family and personal crisis, and the film brings that out with great clarity. Nor does the film spare the future king's dignity. The amusing "training montage" shows him rolling around on the floor under Logue's tutelage, and demonstrating that he can curse with great fluency.
Rush's Logue is a fascinating character as well. A frustrated Shakeperean actor, he found a calling in rehabilitating soldiers shattered in the First World War, and essentially invented his own thereaputic processes.
Firth is well supported by Helena Bonham-Carter as the prince's wife (as was "Bertie" by Elizabeth in real life--). Bonham-Carter plays the former Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon with grace, determination, and the historically appropriate amount of contempt for Mrs. Simpson (Eve Best), although Georgie felt she could have shown a bit more inner steel. The cast of course includes many other real-life historical characters, including Derek Jacobi as the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill. All were excellent.
I've always had a certain distant fondness for George V, based on his conduct in World War II, by staying in London despite bombing; sharing rationing; and forestalling his agressive Prime Minister, Churchill, from riding along with the first wave of the Normandy Invasion by saying that, if it were the Prime Minister's duty to oversee the invasion, then it was his duty, as King, to personally lead his troops into battle. That aside, the King worked closely with Churchill during the war, and did all he could to maintain the morale of his troops and people. There was also the story that, while the king and family were relaxing in the gardens at Buckingham Palace one day, they heard an unexpected tour group approaching. Rather than expose the tourists to the embarassment of having surprised the King in his shirtsleeves, the King lead his family, including the Queen, and then Princess Elizabeth, in hiding behind a hedge and sneaking away. Thus, I was both interested and pleased to learn a bit more about this interesting and complex man.
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