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. Cherry says:

    Peter C Johnson, I think perhaps you should have a cup of tea and a biscuit and then look at this article again. It purports to be a film review, but rapidly descends into infantile whingeing over the fact that an actor expressed a political opinion that Simon appears to have felt personally wounded by. Not only is the film is attacked but also the audience watching, who have paid for their tickets and should feel free to enjoy the film as much as they like. Who is Simon to condemn the audience? Who is he to spout off on the subject of Colin Firth’s political leanings?

    Your main defence of Simon seems to be based on sympathy following trolling attacks against another blogger you admire. I suggest that here the role of troll is taken by Simon, while Colin Firth, the people who made “The King’s Speech”, even the very cinema audiences who went to see the film, find themselves in the same uncomfortable position as Tom Harris in your scenario.

  2. deano453 says:

    Lots of angry people.

    this is a politics blog. a labour leaning one – so not all that suprising that a review would have a political – pro labour stance really…is it?

    what were you expecting?

  3. Colin Firth’s political allegiance has absolutely nothing to do with his acting or this film. Harrison Ford is a Republican but it doesn’t stop me watching Indiana Jones

  4. Geoffrey Matthews says:

    How astonishing to say that you dislike someone because of how they vote.

    And then to condemn them because the party they voted for entered a coalition. (You wouldn’t have condemned him if the coalition had been with Labour would you Sion? Oh, and BTW, the coalition wasn’t Colin Firth’s idea). Glad to understand though that if I’ve got it right you are renouncing all future luvvie support for Labour on the basis that luvvies are…well…luvvies.

    As for your reasoned critique of the Kings’ Speech – well, I haven’t seen it, but your “review” simple leads me to think that it seems to be a reasonably accurate portrayal of society 70 years ago. In your own inimitable formulation, they are actors. Acting. They’re not celebrating anything.

    Except perhaps they are – but it’s something that your terrifying piece reveals you to be blinkered to. It’s something called common humanity. Not something that totalitarian, one party states have much time for – you know, the sort of state where people are reviled for…er…voting differently from you…or…er…acknowledging periods of history that you would rather were expunged.

    The review I prefer to believe is one I heard from a Zimbabwean friend. She’s no fan of the British establishment – rather the opposite in fact – and went to see the King’s Speech expecting to hate it. But in fact she found it an extraordinarily moving portrayal of how two men’s humanity could connect them in extraordinary circumstances.

  5. Paul Wesson says:


    It’s not the fact that it’s a pro-Labour political blog, but the fact that what purports to be a film review is actually an immature rant. SS was a government minister responsible for film. He aspires to run the country’s second largest city. Surely he could have written a film review which is 99% about the film and 1% having a go at the actor’s politics. A sly dig here or there might have brought a smile to our lips. Indeed a bit of self-deprecation could have done the same. If this is the best SS can do I do worry about how he has been behaving as a MP representing constituents of differing political hues.

  6. Jack says:


    So you think Firth should have dutifuly apoligised after not anticipating the Lib Dems being bad…

    I voted Lib Dem, I regret it, but I am in no way apologetic… The vote didn’t count, the tories won in my constituency anyway, I saw it as the only logical choice as I was not happy to support a cabinet of war criminals.

    I might vote for Labour under Milliband, but in all probability will vote Green, – Labour did not do a good job, and the benefit of democracy is that you’re entitled to vote. I’m sure you’d prefer it if we abolished that silly little election thing, and just had Labour in all the time, but thats the way it is.

  7. Preeti Virdee says:

    Mr Simon…are you on crack?

    I’ve not ever heard such bolshevik diatribe…about a film?! And to launch a personal attack on an award-winning supremely talented actor for his freedom of political choice to leave your party [like many thousands of others] and then to have the gall to accuse him to not have the “humility to apologise”? We’re all still waiting for your illustrious former leader to have the “humility to apologise” for the lies, deception, attempts to pull the wool over the nation’s eyes, etc. etc., though I’m positive I will die first.

    As for the film, a first rate British movie that will no doubt pick up endless awards across the globe much to your chagrin!

    Popularity, sir, is the one insult you will never suffer.

  8. Tarka the Rotter says:

    You whinge on about Firth not apologising? When will you apologise for being part of a government that waged illegal wars, curtailed civil liberties and trashed the economy? Where’s your apology Mr Simon? Ah, right…you operate on a higher plane and we little people don’t understand…

  9. Lou says:

    Wow, mean spirited. How do you propose a film about the private life of a monarch should play? We live in a country with a constitutional monarchy, and no matter how much we as socialists might think that is an unjust state to live under, it is nevertheless a fact we have to learn to live with because its very unlikely to change. George VI wasn’t a horrible peasant crushing autocrat, just an ordinary man tasked with a job/career that was rather beyond his personal capabilities.
    Colin Firth is an actor, reading from a script, doing his job, and very well by most accounts. He is free to hold, change and regret his personal politics as he pleases without “dislike” from someone he has never met.
    I spend most of my time trying to explain to Americans that Socialism is a better, fairer way forward, but articles like this merely demonstrate the sort of petty small mindedness that the f’ing Tories pick upon to discredit us.
    Is reviewing a successful British film really a suitable place to display your prejudices?

  10. Virginie says:

    A bit surprised at first (simplistic condemnation of Firth as a person), I enjoyed much more the analysis of the political message sent by the movie… It is very rare to fine one of the sort!

  11. Gemma says:

    Ahh…How truely unblemished and persistantly accurate one must be in order to consider themselves appropriate to insult an actor for merely stating his political tendencies.Yet of course,SS is hardly untainted nor in a particularly highly regarded enough position by the public to dish out such absurd insult without consequence.
    I too,voted Liberal Democrats.They appeared,no doubt to Colin Firth and hundreds of thousands of people also,to be the only reasonable,logical, progressive,rational choice.It appeared that voting Labour would lend the country to continue its dia situation of war,inappropriate politicians and immature opposition attacking within the House of Commons and Politics itself.If voting Tory…well,I imagine that the facts and observations speak for themselves there! Commenting that Colin Firth did not have the “humility to apologise” is obscene. Do you imagine him to have adviced the Liberal Democrats to throw away their principles,to scrap their policies and to ignore the promises of a “better and more free society” to the public in favour of seats in Parliament and “the big society” that David Cameron so tirelessly declared we would have if Tory was Britians majority.No indeed,I imagine that Colin Firth,among all those other Liberal voters (including myself),is truely regretting believing in Nick Clegg’s promises and is now,similar to that of the rest of us,is feeling a tad disillusioned with politics.A persons political leanings does not call for them to be criticised if they were misled, deceived or just plain wrong.
    As for the film,The King’s Speech,I,among millions of others as it would seem,thoroughly enjoyed it!Colin Firth is an atmost superb actor generally but in this film,with his excellent portrayal of a gentleman (who happens to be next in line for the throne) suffering an affliction that he and his family so desperately wish him to overcome in order to accomplish the task in hand and to make his father proud,moved me to tears.He is truely deserving of every award that he received.

  12. Martin says:

    Well, it’s certainly not a film review but that’s what film critics do best.

    As an anti-monarchist myself, I didn’t like the overall message but, hey, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t like serial killers if they made up the ruling elite of my country either but it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of The Silence of the Lambs.

    Criticising the state school educated Firth for his support of the LibDems is, while justified, a drop in the ocean compared with the Guardian newspaper’s support of Clegg and his fellow Tory lapdogs.

    One man’s personal struggle against the straightjacket of the Establishment is always an interesting subject matter and it does a pretty good job of showing the Church and royal Protocol as outdated and out of touch.

    My main gripe was with Helena Bonham-Carter’s portrayal of the good ol’ Queen Mum. I don’t imagine for one second she was anywhere near the woman portrayed in the film.

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