Learn another language, live in a different body — that’s fundamentally what “The King’s Speech” required of Colin Firth if he was to give the stammering King George VI an authenticity that could be sensed in every tortured sentence he delivered.
Stuttering isn’t just a twisted tongue, but a range of complex emotional issues that take hold of the entire body. In Firth, we had someone always in command of the rebellion.
In taking on the reluctant British monarch, the actor tied himself up in knots in such exacting ways that we became as lost in the struggle as he did. The effect was a kind of exquisite pain, leaving us to bear witness as the words refused to come, as the shame and guilt of every failure seeped in. At times, I had to cap my hand over my mouth not to shout out whatever was eluding him.
We can thank screenwriter David Seidler for creating that tongue-twisting gantlet. Line after line, the script was as unrelenting as it was elegant. The stammering itself was a constantly mutating force, demanding that Firth find purchase in so many different ways — fluid with his kids, frustrated with his teacher, flummoxed around his subjects.
Then director Tom Hooper made the camera as unforgiving as the microphone the monarch was constantly forced to face, allowing us to be privy to that test of wills. What we were really privy to was a performance of remarkable nuance and depth. Triumph has never been sweeter than when the king is called upon to calm fears as the storm clouds of World War II build. Breaking the silence in that momentous moment, the words finally come. Slowly, but strong and clear.
Last year, there was a sadness when Firth’s immersive turn in “A Single Man” didn’t win. Sunday, there was only satisfaction. A king finally crowned.