The King’s Speech is the kind of British film that can’t really fail, as long as the production team has a basic level of competence and resources. It’s historical, with assorted royals, palaces, prime ministers, has a simple central conflict that’s easily understood and easily sympathised with and features a cast of hardy recognisables who can do this sort of stuff in their sleep: Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, Derek Jacobi, Timothy Spall, Michael Gambon (didn’t spot Judi Dench or Maggie Smith but you get the idea). We went to see an early showing at Cambridge Arts Picturehouse and the place was packed out, and I suspect that will continue throughout its run, particularly after the inevitable Oscar and Bafta nods are in.
Heritage-type productions like this can be pretty staid, worthy and boring but happily, while certainly not an exercise in risk-taking, this one is actually very digestible, largely because it cuts to the chase and keeps the pageantry, crowd scenes and spectacle to a minimum. A large bulk of its running time consists of just two men in suits in a consulting room, these being Colin Firth as the painfully shy, stammering Duke of York and Geoffrey Rush as the Duke’s cheerfully irreverent speech therapist. Both of these performances are fantastic. No-one does “emotionally constipated Englishman” better than Firth, and never does the Duke’s speech impediment descend into a set of easily rehearsed tics – you really feel the poor man’s pain at finding himself trapped in a public position he’s hopelessly ill-suited for. Conversely, Geoffrey Rush is such a natural choice for the cheeky Australian who has the job of unearthing his client’s long-suppressed voice that you figure that it would have been pretty much impossible to make the picture without him (might this be why Rush gets an Executive Producer credit?).
Eventually momentous matters of state intrude on these intimate therapy sessions – the death of a king, an abdication, a World War – and the film opens out, but by then we’re hooked and at the end I felt that the picture could have been a bit longer, and it’s rare indeed to feel that in the cinema these days.
In summary: precision engineered to win every award going, but also absorbing, funny, briskly paced and brilliantly acted.