by Siôn Simon
I dislike Colin Firth. Not as an actor; he is thespically adept. Nor in a truly personal sense; I don’t believe I have ever met him. My only relations are to have sent him a letter on behalf of her majesty’s government.
He had won some prize or other. I think it may have been a golden globe. I was the film minister and a letter of congratulation was presented to me to sign. I did not really see the point. I did not imagine that Mr Firth would be likely ever to read the letter, or to care if he did.
My officials assured me to the contrary and advised me to sign. There are many occasions on which it is important for a minister to reject the advice of his officials, though to do so is rarely without pain or consequence. This was not such an occasion. I signed.
Only a few months later, as the 2010 general election beckoned, Colin Firth proclaimed to his adoring public that he had renounced his support for Labour and embraced the Liberal Democrats. His rationale was that Labour had betrayed the poor and shattered world peace. Only with the Liberal Democrats would this man’s progressive purity henceforth be safe. That is why I do not like him.
More recently, in an interview, he semi-resiled from his love of the Lib Dems. He gave to understand that he was rather disappointed. Seemed to hint that his new Lib Dem pals had sold their liberal souls to spend a parliament dipped in ministerial gold.
What he did not say is: sorry. I was wrong. I made a stupid mistake and millions of the people much less fortunate than me are now paying a terrible price. He is guilty of the glib exercise of what is known as power without responsibility. But he has not had the humility to apologise.
I don’t know if the like of Colin Firth sway votes. Or whether most people realise that acting is not an analytical profession. Pulling faces does not qualify you to pronounce from on high. De Niro is not really a gangster; he is a luvvy. Colin Firth is not really a King.
So I did not approach the King’s Speech with an entirely blank mind. But nor did I intend to dislike it. This review as I conceived it before seeing the film (all reviewers do this; only the less confident pretend that they don’t) would be a few pars at the top attacking Colin Firth politically, followed by a few more below saying what a good actor and jolly decent film. (It has had exceptionally good notices).
Sadly, I can’t really join in with the general éclat. Everyone says that Firth gives a masterful performance as a stammering George VI. He is surrounded by the cream of British theatre and they are all good. Timothy Spall does a particularly catchy turn as Churchill.
What stuck in my throat was the script, and the audience’s reaction to it. The film’s central leitmotiv – comic and dramatic – is that of the prince among paupers. The great majority of the jokes are about the way the characters – George VI and his wife, his poor Australian speech therapist and his wife – speak to each other.
It unashamedly celebrates a bygone age in which people could openly defer to their betters without fear of belittlement by meritocrats. I watched it in a working class district of a big British city. The audience loved it. Oh, how amusing, your Royal Highness. Look, he has called that common chap “friend”, even though he is a King. How wonderful.
And, look, they have actually gone into their little house, the King and Queen have, into their little house with its vulgar china; and the King is talking to him, just as though they were equals. Isn’t that lovely. They’re just like us really. Except, well, better.
Right-wingers will say that this is a dreary lefty analysis, whereas really the King’s Speech is just a human drama about a brave man overcoming adversity. It is nothing of the sort. It is a hymn to the royal ideal. An insidious anthem to the notion that nobility of birth and spirit are usually, if not always, linked.
Which, of course, they are not. Not at all. My sadness, and surprise in 2011, was the extent to which the audience, a cross-section of ordinary people, plainly would like them to be.