The film, The King’s Speech, has been hugely successful – your London correspondent admits to having gone to a cinema to watch it more than once, and has been hugely touched by it each time.
What is the secret of its success? At a cinema in a London suburb recently, the audience actually broke out in applause at the end. There have been rave reviews. Anything and everything to do with the film – descriptions of how the sets were made, anecdotes about the filming, interviews with the actors, directors, or costume-makers – receives massive media coverage.
It isn’t just that Colin Firth is a fine – and very good-looking – actor, ditto Helena Bonham-Carter. It’s more than that. The film taps into a very strong current mood: a sort of nostalgia for a departed Britain, where there was a sense of security about the nation’s place in the world and the values that secured it, combined with a conviction that at least we still have a monarchy, and a Monarch truly worthy of her father.
Our present Queen is, of course, depicted in the film, as a little girl, and she is depicted rather well – a serious child, already conscious of her responsibilities as she whispers a reminder to her sister to curtsey as they greet their father for the first time as king.
The scenery in the film emphasises much of the dreariness of 1930s Britain – lots of fog, ugly wallpaper, rather gloomy rooms. There are scruffy unwashed children on street corners emphasising poverty, and pompous BBC broadcasters emphasising the newness of radio and their self-important status within it. We are all meant to be terribly aware of the care that has gone into making it a Genuinely Authentic Period Piece. But although we enjoy all that, the message of the film also transcends it. The message of a decent man trying so hard to fulfil his duty is immensely attractive. The vision of his warm and loving family life is heart-warming. Here is true romance, with husband and wife sharing in a common, at times agonising, struggle to overcome a massive difficulty.
The vacant and hedonistic lifestyle of the older brother is contrasted with the genuine decency of the central characters, and this is all set against the background of what we all know is the looming threat of a ghastly war in which people’s personal qualities will be tested. There is only one omission really – we ought to have been allowed a glimpse of the very real Christian faith which sustained King George VI: the scenes in Westminster Abbey should have shown him briefly at prayer – if necessary humorously contrasting his sincerity with a formulaic religiosity on the part of others.
It is rather absurd to applaud a film in a modern cinema. I don’t think there is even anyone busy with reels of film or complicated lighting, as there used to be a few years ago – it’s all done by remote control with a flick of a switch. People applauded because they loved what they had just seen and heard, and somehow identified with it. They wanted to, as it were, show their support and join in.
If you haven’t seen the film, you will not know what I am talking about. But if you know modern Britain, and are aware of its problems, its sense of social and moral and spiritual confusion, its lack of common purpose and a belief in its future, you will be intrigued by the success of The King’s Speech. May we dare to hope that it offers a faint, a very faint, message of hope?