Communications Breakdown: Colin Firth, 'The King's Speech'

December 15, 2010


To say Colin Firth’s performance in “The King’s Speech” is generating Oscar buzz is like saying a cattle prod gives a little poke. The film examines the relationship between George VI (Firth), who struggled with a profound stutter, and Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), his unorthodox speech coach. Firth talked to Express about the psychology of stuttering, the burdens of power and one very heavy costume.

What was the biggest challenge in playing a character with a stutter?
It has very inappropriately been used for comedy, probably far too much. And that would have killed us, if it was something people felt tempted to mock, and it would have killed us if people had found it so painful to listen to that they didn’t want to watch the movie.

How much of the character’s struggle comes from the stutter, and how much of it comes from other issues?
It’s a perfect storm of components that would drive a man into retreat. You’re on show, but you’re not amongst ordinary people. Where do you find your friends? How many people are ever going to be able to give you a hug, or shake your hand, or give you a pat on the back, or mock you jokingly at a football game? And then on top of that, you’re literally living behind very, very high walls. So, how do you reach a man like that, through all of those things? Plus his struggle to communicate, plus he’s convinced that he cannot communicate. He’s basically locked in. And I think one of the things that happens in our story is that he finds a friend.

You wore quite an elaborate coat in the film’s coronation scene. How heavy was that thing?
Talk about not needing to use your imagination much when it comes to the burden of state! It could perfectly break your spine. It’s insane. And to think, a couple of hundred years before, people went into battle wearing that stuff.

Did he have any equals, or was everyone in his mind either above or below him?
Well, that’s an interesting question. No one’s asked that before. No, I think he does think everyone is either above or below him and I think that’s something that [gives him] a very unsettling relationship with the world. Because if you’re very conscious of status, then of course you’re going to be measuring other people according to status, and there will be very few people you treat as equals, and I think that’s a problem with status consciousness. He did go in the Navy. And he was bullied in Navy school, so I don’t quite know what it’s like for members of the royal family when they go to that environment. Members of the current royal family had military training as well. It sounds like they get into the rough and tumble with people, and they play sports and I think they do have friends. But I know that he struggled in the Navy, in Navy school, but he did enjoy service. I think he loved that. I think he was probably at his happiest when serving as a naval officer.

Photo by Laurie Sparham

Kristen Page-Kirby covers film for The Washington Post Express.
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