Sometimes you have to watch out for the heart throbs and the good looking guys. Sure, they come onto the screen and they smile their smile and the women in the audience swoon, but they don’t really do much as far as actual acting. That is something that cannot really be said about English actor Colin Firth.
Firth got his big break playing the dreamy Mr. Darcy in the adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Like so many overnight sensations, he had been doing work on the stage since 1983 and had even appeared on screen with other English actors such as Rupert Everett in an adaptation of a stage show he had been in called Another Country. Then, he got the break of a lifetime by starring opposite Laurence Olivier in a TV drama called Lost Empires.
None of that did much until he appeared as the main romantic interest from Austen’s novel, Fitzwilliam Darcy. The role was for a BBC television version of the book and it gained him instant fame in his home country. It was this role that made him famous and that got him the job in the movie adaptation of Bridget Jones’ Diary. In fact, in the novelization the character he plays is described as looking like Colin Firth from Pride and Prejudice. His character is even named Mark Darcy.
Firth has been in a wide range of films from drama to comedy. He was in The English Patient and Fever Pitch. He was also something of a villain in Shakespeare in Love. He was in the Bridget Jones sequel Edge of Reason. He has been in family fare like Nanny McPhee and even showed he could play comedy and music in Mamma Mia! Firth even showed he could host a live television show and do more comedy by hosting Saturday Night Live.
All of that is well and good, but it is his current performance in The King’s Speech that seems to be on the verge of cementing him as a true acting talent. This is for good reason. He is outstanding in the role of the stammering prince and king George VI.
Firth is front and center throughout the film. It is what he manages to convey with his gestures and not his stammer that is truly effective. In the opening scenes Prince Albert of Windsor has been asked by his father, the King of England, to deliver the speech to close out the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley Stadium. Not only is he supposed to address a crowd of thousands, but the microphone will broadcast his voice to the entire British empire.
Firth manages to convey the sheer terror in the man’s face. Watch him as he clutches the speech in his hands, reading and re-reading the words in hopes of memorizing them so completely that he will overcome is stutter. Watch as he approaches the microphone as though it were something alive, and with teeth, that might bite him. This is a man who is supposed to be ready to be a king and there is nothing but terror on his face. It is heart-breaking.
It is a strange thing to be a king. You have so much power and, yet, there is so much tradition bearing down upon you. It was supposed to be Albert’s brother who was supposed to be king. But his brother was so infatuated with an American divorcee that he abdicated the throne. The scene where Firth, as King George, breaks down, clutching state paperwork, and says that he was never meant to be king brings all of that history into perspective.
Albert becomes King George at a key moment in British history. Adolf Hitler is running rampant over Europe. It looks like Great Britain, tiny as it is, will be the only thing that can hold him off. The country is still hurting from World War One and no one wants to see another world war. The country turns to its king to reassure them. How can he overcome his stammer?
This is where Geoffrey Rush steps in as Lionel Logue. He is a man who can help men overcome their speech impediments, but his methods are certainly not traditional. Most importantly, they are not even close to kingly.
This is a remarkable movie. It is almost entirely a two-man show as Rush and Firth hold the screen. Often, their faces are the main focus of the screen, taking up almost the entirety of it. Every wrinkle and bit of their age is evident. Firth manages to put his heart-throb looks aside and become a man you care about and root for. It is a truly star-making performance.
These days both the movie and the stars are garnering awards. The movie, as well as Firth and Rush, are up for Academy Awards. Many think that, at the very least, Firth will come away with a Best Actor nod. This is as it should be. His performance is fearless, touching, dramatic, forceful and even funny. He is a king and, more importantly, he is King George VI.