The King’s Speech at Yvonne Arnaud, GuildfordFebruary 14th, 2012
by Libby Purves
You need not be a monarchist to feel, 60 years after his early death, a slightly tearful affection for poor George VI. A stammering, reluctant monarch he stands at a BBC microphone in 1939, struggling through his first momentous wartime broadcast. OK, it is a bit manipulative of director Adrian Noble to add the faint swelling strains of Elgar’s Nimrod, but the situation was real enough. Minutes before, we were watching the nervous King (Charles Edwards) practising in a humble flat, saying his lines to a mop lashed to a bucket while his puckish speech therapist Lionel Logue (Jonathan Hyde) urges him on with bursts of song and refreshing oaths. Earlier still we saw his bluff father (Joss Ackland) being no help at all.
The story of how the shy younger brother stepped up after the Abdication is familiar, but only lately have we had the Oscar-winning film about how an unqualified, cheeky Australian coach helped him to overcome his speech impediment. David Seidler wrote the play originally for stage, and in the hands of Noble and the marvellous Edwards, this world premiere feels subtler, more thoughtful than the movie. We see more of Logue’s own weaknesses: he was in Britain failing to build a stage career, keeping his homesick wife Myrtle (Charlotte Randle) from her longing for Perth. During the Abdication speech the words “without the woman I love by my side” coincide with a simple, effective revolve showing us the Logues at home, silently realising that if Bertie does ask him back after their quarrel, poor Myrtle won’t get home.
More stress is laid on the politics too, and the need for a King able to cope with the new broadcasting machine. We see the mocking, shallow-hearted elder brother’s penchant for Nazism, and Churchill’s anxiety that Hitler’s oratory is rousing Europe while our own head of state “can’t even order f-fish and chips”. Michael Feast is a strutting Archbishop of Canterbury, the loom of war is reinforced by newsreel archive and the plain, revolving frame conveys a speedy sense of anterooms, secret discussions and Logue’s cosy flat.
Charles Edwards is terrific, using light-tenor jerkiness to convey the painful awkward inhibition of the royal predicament. When Logue first offers a handshake he puts his hat in the outstretched palm: grow up like that, and all the world’s a valet to you. At the end, offering his own hand, the royal Pinocchio becomes human. And if Nimrod didn’t get you snivelling, that will.
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