The Sunday Review: the King’s Speech

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.


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62 Responses to “The Sunday Review: the King’s Speech”

  1. Matt says:

    Possibly the most ridiculous “review” I have ever had the misfortune to read. Arrogant, patronising, pompous, self-important, smug and self-serving.
    And most importantly wrong – about Firth, and about the film which is far from being a celebration of a bygone age, or a glorification of the monarchy.
    Quite the contrary. Shows that they are all too human – bad tempered, irascible, with all too human foibles and failings.
    It will probably win at least three Oscars, which hopefully will put this small-minded, snivelling little ‘review’ in its proper place.
    But then Simon knows very little about good film-making.

  2. What a confused and bitter article. I suggest you go lie down for a minute or two. What on earth does Colin Firth have to apologise for? He expressed a political preference and then realised he made a mistake and announced he was no longer supporting the Lib Dems. As somebody of minimal political influence, as you rightly point out, he has nothing to apologise for.

    As for your dreary film crit, are you suggesting we shouldn’t make films that focus on a time when class relations were much more rigid? What silly, shallow nonsense. Based on your record in government, I hardly think you spend your time watching Kes and Cathy Come Home.

  3. Gary says:

    What a teriffic parody! To highlight the petty, catastrophising hystrionics of others who would dislike a person just for being a different version of centre-left in political outlook.
    Very witty.

  4. What a chippy, resentful, self-regarding puss-filled abscess of hypocrisy and class hatred.

    This so-called ‘review’ basically says “I am not qualified to give an objective, adult view on this film because (a) I don’t understand the art form and (b) I feel very hurt and very, very upset about the main actor because he dared to jilt me.”

    How thin-skinned. How ego-maniacal. How embarrassing.

    By the way the film is very good – I saw it last night.

  5. Rob Latimer says:

    Some salt & vinegar to go with that chip on your shoulder, old chap?

  6. Jamesy says:

    This review says so much more about Sion Simon than about the film. What a bitter, poisonous, self-centred, blinkered buffoon. But then we knew that already from every single one of his previous public outings.

  7. Simon Richards says:

    Poor Mr Simon – rubbish as a politician and even worse as a film critic. I could do no better of course, but at least I know that the review is meant to be about the film and not the reviewer.

  8. Brian Potter says:

    Firth is a fine actor. His politics are his own choice. To dislike him for excercising his right to those views and to move from Labour to another party is petty. On that basis I would guess you dislike several million Britons as of May 2010.

  9. jonathan anthony says:

    Glad to see Sion Simon’s prolonged period in the political wilderness hasn’t mellowed his innate cretinism. It is reassuring to see this fool is as certifiable as he ever was.

  10. Tyburn Tory says:

    Haha. Love the way SS reviews the audience at the end – the b****** were loving it – and he had such high hopes for these ordinary people.

    I presume the Grauniad journos are also on yr shitlist.

  11. YMT says:

    What a miserable person you are! Methinks you should get a break from politics, it all seems to have made you a pretty depressed and bitter individual…

  12. Jon says:

    If you genuinely think the film is “a hymn to the royal ideal” and “An insidious anthem to the notion that nobility of birth and spirit are usually, if not always, linked” you really were not watching the film properly at all. Presumably you gave it some superficial attention while composing this review in your head.

    For starters you have ignored the negative treatment of Edward VIII (and the equivocal treatment of George V who is painted as bearing significant responsibility for his dysfunctional offspring) and the way in which Albert and Elizabeth are made to look fairly absurd when they do stand on their “dignity”.

    I hope you didn’t approach legislating in such a sloppy way.

  13. Terrible article.

    Stick to the politics and leave the film reviewing to people who have something to say about the film, not just a convoluted political point to make.

  14. I thought this was a film review, not a bitter and twisted whine about another individual’s political allegiance. I don’t like the Lib Dems, but it would make no difference to what I thought about a film.

    Bill Bailey is one of my favourite comedians but a Labour supporter. His personal right to do so and doesn’t make a difference to what I think of his comedy.

    Mr Simon, open your eyes and take off your blinkers. If this was sent to me to my review website Id tell you to go away and write it again or don’t bother.

  15. David Turner says:

    I have rarely read such a bitter review. The man’s an actor for heaven’s sake. Judge him on his performance, please!

  16. ZED45 says:

    oh dear boys. all a little over excited about this one.

    good read. still go see the film though.

  17. Simon says:

    You were “Film Minister” ? Seriously ? Oh come on. You’re pulling my leg, surely !?

    It says something for our particular brand of democracy that an ignorant and bigoted individual such as this gets a government position. Wow.

  18. RealMcCoy says:

    Sion, would you like a nice aged cheese to go with that whine??

  19. Ray Carlin says:

    Hahahahahaha…where to start? Any wonder the country is in the mess it’s in when intellectual lightweights like SS were at the helm of various Government Departments. I’d love to think this was a p*ss-take review, sadly since SS is the author I know it’s a pathetic attempt at high-brow commentary. Ah well, made me laugh anyway….

  20. Fergal Hunter says:

    Why should he have to say sorry? He was not wrong! Labour *had* betrayed the poor and shattered world peace…

  21. Col says:

    Siôn Simon, ‘Film Minister’ – a suitably mickey mouse portfolio, methinks. Never heard of him before, which outlines his whalloping impact on British politics. Whoever the hell he is/was, his nasty, petty, sneering class-obsessed outpouring of pure bollockology masquerading as a film review only serves to remind me why I no longer waste my vote on Labour.

  22. Siôn, you seem to have become a parody of yourself. If you want to make an argument against the monarchy, this is a textbook example of how not to do it. Most political writing sets out to persuade; this seems determined only to irritate.

  23. Pollik says:

    Dear God! And this man was trusted with a ministerial position in government?

  24. Matt says:

    *facepalm*

  25. Matt Fitzpatrick says:

    Was that review plagiarised from a Sixth Form newspaper? Simplistic conclusions, blinkered ill-found prejudice mixed with an ostentatious use of language. The sanctimonious analysis is apparently missing the point of the film. Furthermore, rather than celebrating the splendour of royalty, the film seems to make fun of the absurdity of such deference. The amusement that the film creates is, in part, because of the grandstanding that we see manifested in the King’s behaviour. It is only when the King realises the preposterous nature of such snobbery that he can begin his journey to recovery. To some extent it is a story of a man who is so consumed by the grand nature of his office that he cannot function proficiently within it. This is no celebration of royalty, it is a celebration of an egalitarian belief that we are all born mortal, with flaws and that the divinity of Kings is a ridiculous principle to life by.

  26. Jacquelyn says:

    At last an upside to the awful con/lib coalition, thank goodness that this petty and childish individual is no longer entrusted with any ministerial responsibility.

  27. Mike says:

    Hmm. This is my first visit to this blog, to which I was considering returning, in order to keep abreast of political opinion.

    This review came across as boring, childish and petulant. I can only surmise that the rest of the blog will be in the same vein. I will have a look as I wouldn’t condemn it on one poorly written piece but my hopes aren’t high.

    It’s a shame that politicians allow their clearly fragile human feelings to be “hurt” by a celebrity refusing to endorse them after what can only be described as a controversial decision to wage war in the East. I would hope our elected officials would be above their human frailties.

    Farewell!

  28. Scott says:

    LOL – what a cussing!

    Perhaps the author could explain why nepotism is meritocratic?

  29. Richard B says:

    As a former representative of the people I find it odd that when you find yourself disagreeing with an entire cinema of those you represented, *they* are wrong and not you. Surely your job as an MP was to represent your constituency’s political will and ideals, not your own?

  30. There was a minister for film? Really? What did he do?

  31. Nick says:

    Has Sion Simon ever apologised for voting in favour of the Iraq war, by the way? It’s likely that did much more harm than anything he might imagine Colin Firth has achieved…

  32. Akatsuki says:

    Who is Siôn Simon? Never heard of him.
    Want to know what would sway votes? Well, I’ve yet to find a political party I actually like and am willing to vote for but see if this unknown Siôn Simon ever did such a shoddy ‘review’ on the recent Harry Potter film, or the one coming out in July, I’d never vote for Labour. Ever.

  33. Chris says:

    Stand in the corner and think about what you’ve done, silly.

  34. Mark Childs says:

    So Colin Firth should apologise for having trusted the Lib Dems? Does that mean any betrayal by a government is the fault of the people who voted for them, not the politicians who betrayed them? If so, I now present my apologies to everyone reading this for every time I voted Labour. I promise I’ll never do it again.

    And it’s leitmotif with an f.

  35. John P says:

    Eh? Colin Firth has the right to vote for his government, the right to make vocal his views and the right to change his views and allegiances if he wants to.
    Can’t say knowing the political bias of a respectable actor has ever had an affect on my political views.

    I don’t want to be edited or censored but I thought this review was, and I quote, “a lot of terrible w**k.”

  36. Rebecca says:

    This piece left me feeling as though I had accidentally read Sion’s diary, did he *mean* to hit the ‘publish’button on this embarassing insight into his petty bias?

    I don’t recall Labour ever apologising for selling the working class up the river or for starting a war on false premises. I don’t see why Mr Firth should apologise for holding an opinion.

    “I don’t know … whether most people realise that acting is not an analytical profession. Pulling faces does not qualify you to pronounce from on high.”

    But being an ex-film minister does?

  37. Kelvin says:

    Heh heh! A thoroughly entertaining review.

    It’s a shame no-one has mentioned ZaNuLieBore. It’s only that which prevents these comments from being a textbook collection of self-important, pompous branespeaks. Full marks for effort, everyone.

  38. David says:

    A rare occasion indeed when the comments on an article demand more respect than the article itself.

  39. Its Monday. Lunctime. I’m catching up with Labour Uncut. I read this article then fall upon the comments. Some, not all, of which attributed to Sion Simon’s piece I find abusive and generally appalling. 
     
    You can bemoan the work of a man and articulate your prejudices against his opinion without climbing out from the gutter in order to do it or to insult his character and integrity in the process. 
     
    Hiding behind the firewall on your computer as well as the one that sits directly behind your intellect and imagination stirs little of interest when you make such comments.

    Free speech clearly equates to the need to convey withering insults, for some.  

     ‘Poisonous’, ‘bitter’, ‘arrogant’ ‘bigoted’ ‘chippy’ ‘bollockology’, could equally be applied to your own remarks.  Should I be at all surprised that there was a failure to spot the irony of using such words before they were posted?

    This, it seems, is now established culture on the blogosphere. I have often suspected that Tom Harris, whose blog I came to thoroughly enjoy, became exhausted to an extent by the experience of such personal attacks which contributed, in part, to his decision to stop doing it. My loss; so shame on me for taking so long to speak out.

    But there have been other examples, and this site has had its fair share.

    Before you open up an article on Labour Uncut you’ll see a word highlighted in red at the foot of it. It says, ‘comments’. What it does not say is, ‘insults’. We should all, myself included, try to remember that, for all our sakes.    

  40. Toffer99 says:

    I sympathise with Mr. Firth. I also switched from being a lifelong Labour voter to the Lib Dems because I felt betrayed by Labour in many ways. I now feel a similar sense of betrayal with the Lib Dems.
    Like Mr Firth again, I make no apology for believing politicians’ promises; along with many fellow citizens I shall never believe one again.
    I’m sorry that I don’t remember your name, although you say that you were also a politician, and even a minister. Was that with the Welsh Government? Anyway, I don’t suppose it will happen to you again.

  41. Tom Moyser says:

    The most fantastic thing about this “review” is that the statement “Labour had betrayed the poor and shattered world peace.” is contradicted only in implication. Although obviously hyperbolic, inequality and unethical conflict tactics and human rights abuses abroad lost Labour significant votes for good reason, and Firth’s stance was by no means unreasonable. It’s lamentable that the defense of Labour’s position from a high profile figure is an attack on the artistic work of a detractor and not a reponse to his accusations.

  42. King Charles VI says:

    I agree entirely with this article.

  43. C Firth says:

    I apologise for nothing!

  44. les says:

    Ah, bless!

  45. I have read the review and I thnk we can safely assume that SS is correct when he says he had pre-planned how he was going to write it. In fact I would hazard a guess that he wrote it without actually seeing the film and after reading a couple of paragraphs in The Mirror. SS has mentioned 2 actors, Spall and Firth, and nobody else. There is no mention of the directing, the production, the screenplay, the use of historical settings etc. What is the point of such a review? It tells the reader nothing of note about the film and an awful lot about SS’s prejudices. I had to do a book review when I was doing English O-level; had I written as SS did I would have got 0 out of 10. I did get 1 out of 25 for writing similar tripe during my A-level English when I got drunk and vented my spleen on T S Eliot. I learn about objectivity at the age of 17; pity SS hasn’t progressed that far in 42 years. I’d advise SS to stick to the day job, but worry that he mght just do that.

    BTW the review is written in execrable Engliah as well. 0 out of 10.

  46. See, what the film showed me was that all the doff-capping and crawling was GETTING IN THE WAY of curing the king’s ailments. It’s Geoffrey Rush’s refusal to treat the king as a king, but as a nervous patient with deep personal drawbacks that’s the core of the film.
    And the suggestion that you could write a film set in Britain at any time, let alone PRE-WAR Britain, without dealing with the eccentricities of class distinction, is a little naive.

    That said, for the BRITISH FILM MINISTER to be unable to remember which actors won international awards and for what during his tenure, is not something I’d be amazingly proud of.

  47. Jasmin says:

    How does supporting a political party which turned out not to be as good as expected result in “millions of people much less fortunate than you paying a terrible price”?

    Also, there’s no need to apologise for supporting a party which seemed promising at the time.

    Also, this is meant to be a FILM REVIEW, you shouldn’t spent the first half of it (very bitterly) critisising peoples political opinions.

  48. Emma G says:

    I’m sorry, I may have misunderstood what you are saying here? Are you seriously suggesting that Colin Firth supporting the lib dems caused misery for millions of people? How? They didn’t even win: it was nothing to do with the voters that all this is happening now, and even if it did, I doubt most people base their votes on the celebrities that endorse a particular party.
    Like a few others here, I have never heard of you, but already I do not like you. You say yourself you have never met him….how can you have such a strong dislike of him, based simply on his not apologising for causing “millions of people to pay a terrible price.” why is it his place to apologise? I don’t understand.
    Then you finally rattle out a few prejudiced lines about the film, which is where I hit another problem: you talk of how the film celebrates the nobility of birth and how it affects your life.
    Umm, it’s a film? It’s telling a story….that’s what films do!! That’s like saying toy story 3 is celebrating and endorsing our waste culture by throwing out perfectly good toys.
    Utterly ridiculous.
    I’m really looking forward to the film. Suck on that.

  49. estron Prydferth says:

    And there I was thinking it was a film review. Casting? Costumes? Look, if you’re gonna have a rant about Colin Firth’s political opinions, that’s fine. Just don’t do it in the guise of a ‘Film review.’ Now I shall have to go hunting for other film reviews you’ve written, just to see if you know how to go about it. This wasn’t it, by the way.

  50. James King says:

    This does come over as incredibly, incredibly arrogant and overly partisan, and it’s good to see so many Labour supporters agree with me. I sincerely hope that Sion Simon, should he become Mayor of Birmingham, would be able to work with the Tories and Lib Dems who currently run the council, but given that he found it difficult to even write a letter of congratulations to someone from a different party, there are serious question marks about his ability to do so.

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