It’s ‘awards season’ apparently, and The King’s Speech is one of a number of heavily publicised films appearing in January which has been tipped for glory. Colin Firth – fast becoming a national treasure – plays the would-be king suffering from a crippling stammer, Helena Bonham Carter is his caring wife and Geoffrey Rush his unconventional speech therapist. You can guess the plot a mile off.
Tom Hooper, who previously made The Damned United, shoots his period pieces with a kind of plasticky sheen where nothing quite seems real and no image is anything more or less than pleasant. His characters here are elegantly drawn and their motivations always perfectly clear. The unobtrusive, unremarkable score holds your hand and gently guides you through emotional peaks and troughs.
There’s skilful acting from all three leads. Firth’s stammer is convincing and he is expressive enough that his attempts at speech are always compelling, the audience left sympathetic rather than exasperated. Timothy Spall does a silly turn as a caricature of Churchill. Michael Gambon has two scenes as the older King George – one where he’s angry, another where he’s dying – and is brilliant in both.
Occasionally the camera will do something interesting, such as the moment before the film’s final speech when the flashing red light which counts down to ‘on air’ is not shown directly but reflected in Firth’s terrified face. The opening sequence – the prince’s first speech, at Wembley – is also stylishly done, the echo of the PA system giving each glottal click painful extra resonance.
Mainly, though, Hooper keeps it conventional and rarely lets his directing get in the way of the story. Entirely inoffensive, witty and accomplished, this cosy armchair of a film will have you leaving the cinema feeling warm inside, with a smile on your face. It didn’t provoke, surprise, challenge, invigorate or disturb me, but then I suppose it wasn’t trying to. It was just nice.