Generous helpings of Shakespeare and a pitch-imperfect Colin Firth make for a stirring, memorable movie
The key to The King’s Speech is a much earlier one by Shakespeare’s murderous medieval King, Richard III: “Now is the winter of our discontent/ Made glorious summer by this sun of York”. The dramatist plays on sun/son of York and so does the scriptwriter of the movie, David Seidler, when Lionel Logue, the speech therapist of the stammering Duke of York, recites this soliloquy at an audition for amateur theatre. An Australian of many parts, Lionel is picked to help the Duke, later King George VI, overcome his infirmity.
Richard III, too, is not yet King when he opens the play, and he too has infirmities: “Deform’d, unfinish’d, sent before my time/ Into this breathing world scarce half made up.” The King’s Speech then is a stirring film about a challenged individual overcoming the odds, never mind his royal lineage.
Colin Firth is pitch imperfect in the role and uses his endearing stutter to create the persona of this very human monarch—deeply empathetic to ordinary people, refusing to leave London for his own safety during the blitzkrieg and touring the poorest and worst-affected areas to offer sympathy. And with this compassion is a need for genuine friendship, and the film demonstrates that the most important part of speech therapy, as with any therapy that has a psychological make-up, is the bond of affection and trust between patient and therapist (Geoffrey Rush).
Since every friendship has a go-between, here it is the Duchess of York (Bonham Carter). She brings a lightness to stuffy royalty, and Lionel observes this on her visit to his chamber: “Poor and content is rich and rich enough” (Iago in Othello). By the time he records his patient reading Hamlet, you have to ask: is our therapist Australian or English—Lionel or William?