Riva/Presents Extra author Heidi Rice enjoys a beautifully nuanced English Heritage drama and marvels at how Colin Firth manages to make stiff upper lips sexy!
First of all I'll admit that I'm not a big fan of films about the British Royal Family... Stiff upper lips and restrained emotions are not usually my thing, I like my movies to wear their heart on their sleeve and all that etiquette and manners and pomp and circumstance (and often hopelessly pompous dialogue) tends to send me into a coma. Okay, enough about me. So it was with a certain amount of reserve of my own that I went to see The King's Speech on Sunday night with my DH.
All right, I'll admit it, the only thing that got my bum on that seat was Colin Firth. Because here is a man who excels at playing men whose passions smoulder beneath a surface of cast-iron reserve. And it's the process of watching that control crack and then break that makes his performances so emotionally satisfying. Think of the moment in the BBC's Pride and Prejudice when his uptight Darcy finally loses the battle against his feelings and declares himself to Lizzie (only to have his love thrown back in his face) or the scene in A Single Man when he is told by a stranger over the phone that his long-time gay partner has died. The agony of a grief he is forbidden to express is clearly etched on his face as he continues the unbearably polite conversation to its conclusion - and discovers he is not welcome at the funeral.
So, I have to say, the historical story behind The King's Speech seemed like the perfect vehicle for Firth's particular talent for subtle, nuanced - and smoulderingly passionate - performances.
If you're not British you may not know that way back in the 1930s the new King Edward VIII did the unthinkable and abdicated the throne to his younger brother Bertie (George VI) so he could marry divorcee Wallis Simpson. But what I didn't know (despite being a Brit) is that Bertie had a terrible stammer. In a family where 'doing one's duty' was the only measure of love, Bertie's father had virtually disowned him ('Speak up, boy') and his older brother had teased him mercilessly all through his childhood. Public speaking was a humiliating ordeal that was cruelly exacerbated by the advent of radio broadcasts. Thus the strain of being forced to take over the monarchy was made a thousand times worse by his speech impediment. But as catastrophe looms for him, he has to rely on the love and support of his wife Elizabeth (the Queen Mum!) and the help of wildly unconventional Aussie speech therapist Lionel Logue. It was their friendship that became the defining feature of Bertie's monarchy, as Logue not only gives Bertie back his voice, but also helps him to face and eventually break free from the traumas of his childhood with the simple offer of genuine friendship.
Now, whether all that's true or not, who knows. But watching Colin Firth's Bertie being forced out of his shell by Geoffrey Rush's deliberately insubordinate Lionel and being supported by Helena Bonham-Carter's wonderfully pragmatic Queen Elizabeth is an absolute joy - made all the more poignant by three faultless central performances and a sharply witty and irreverent script.
The final scene, as Bertie delivers his first radio address to the nation after the declaration of the Second World War - without a single waivering word - evokes all the power and passion of one man's triumph over adversity (and a hopelessly sterile and unforgiving family life) while also celebrating the healing power of friendship.
Heart on sleeve time? You betcha!
Surf, Sea and a Sexy Stranger is available on Amazon in the UK, and is due out in the US as a Presents Extra in April. While her first Riva, Cupcakes & Killer Heels will be on shelves in the UK in May. Come have a natter on her blog, Facebook or via her website.