What will Her Majesty make of this?
It’s “The King’s Speech” we’re talking about. The U.K. movie premiered at the London Film Festival, which ended last night. Colin Firth, who plays Queen Elizabeth II’s stammering father, is asked: What will the monarch think, watching her dad bark out four-letter words as part of his therapy?
“It’s crossed my mind,” says the 50-year-old actor, in an open-neck shirt and jacket, and rid of the flattened, parted hairstyle he had in the movie.
Firth says he doubts that any profanities were uttered in real life -- but they really worked in the story. “We weren’t cocking a snook at anybody,” he says.
The star, an Academy Award nominee for his role as the mourning lecturer in “A Single Man” (2009), dismisses the Oscar talk around this one. While the film “wasn’t a walk in the park by any means,” he says, he worked hard on other movies -- and still “you get a lot of cabbage thrown at you.”
“The King’s Speech” plots Prince Albert’s reluctant transformation into King George VI while he is being treated for his stammer by an impertinent Australian named Lionel Logue.
The second-in-line to the throne is shown at the movie’s start getting tongue-tied as he addresses thousands at the British Empire Exhibition in 1925. Tens of thousands more listen, live, to the prince’s stunned silence.
His wife Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon is played with the stiffest of upper lips by Helena Bonham Carter. The future Queen Mum first takes him to an old-fashioned London doctor, who makes the prince speak with marbles in his mouth. His Royal Highness spits them out, and storms out.
Elizabeth then finds Logue’s address in an ad, and takes Albert to meet the loudmouth Australian in a shabby office. Logue tells the prince he dares not speak until spoken to.
“Waiting for me to commence a conversation,” Albert deadpans, “one can wait rather a long wait.”
Logue then irks the prince by calling him Bertie, and puts him through a strict regimen of chants, hums, cheek wags, hops, skips, and dirty words.
When King George V dies, Bertie’s brother, to whom the throne has passed, weeps uncontrollably in their mother’s arms. “Poor Wallis,” he says of his twice-divorced American girlfriend. “Now I’m trapped.”
Edward VIII rules briefly. Yet he seems happier hosting elegant dinner parties with his beloved, the slim-waisted, dark-haired Wallis Simpson. Soon, he abdicates, and Albert steps in.
The “King’s Speech” script is the work of David Seidler, who stammered as a boy. He started researching the story a few years ago, but was asked by the Queen Mother not to go public with it while she was alive, as the memories were still too raw.
His script got a last-minute boost from the discovery that Logue’s grandson had his papers, fragments of an autobiography, and the late sovereign’s medical report.
Directed by Tom Hooper, “The King’s Speech” surpasses other royal movies, even Stephen Frears’s “The Queen,” which owed much of its success to actress Helen Mirren.
Asked during the festival whether he could relate to his character, Firth recalls a recent instance of stage fright, when he locked himself up in a toilet to rehearse a two-page monologue at London’s Donmar Warehouse that he couldn’t recall.
“I went out through the fire door, and it closed,” he says. “I had to beg to be let back in, as I’d forgotten the pass code -- and go through the audience.”
For information on the London Film Festival, see http://www.bfi.org.uk/lff. “The King’s Speech” comes out in the U.S. on Nov. 26, in Canada on Dec. 10, and in the U.K. on Jan. 7, 2011.
(Farah Nayeri writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)