Mr. Darcy Does It Again: Colin Firth and The King’s Speech

Bertie—King George—is not the stuff of myths. His character has flaws. His armor has chinks. He is human, and he is not invincible. But he is strong.

I have never watched the Academy Awards before in my life. Last night, I tuned in for one purpose and one purpose only: to see Colin Firth win Best Lead Actor for his stunning performance in The King’s Speech. I would hesitate to talk about the Oscars on Humane Pursuits if Brian’s terrific piece from last week on men in Jane Austen hadn’t provided me with the perfect hook: Mr. Darcy.

I’ve never seen the 2008 version of Sense and Sensibility, so I can’t engage Brian’s relative evaluations of David Morrissey and Alan Rickman as Colonel Brandon. But all true Austen fans, whatever their opinions on other film versions of her books might be, agree on one thing: Colin Firth, in the 1995 BBC miniseries version of Pride and Prejudice, is the consummate Mr. Darcy. And as men go, in the long run, he does not leave much to be desired.

The same characteristics that typify Firth’s character in Pride and Prejudice appear again, magnified, in his portrayal of King George VI, and everything that Brian says about Austen’s heroes is as true of the king as it is of Darcy. I was particularly struck by the aptness of this thought:

“I contend that a key reason we like Austen’s stories is that there are real men in them who know how to be men, day after day, moment after difficult moment—in awkward situations, in thankless tasks, in rooms full of women, when their actions and even their mannerisms are constantly scrutinized and judged.”

In a year of Sundays, I could not have found a better way of expressing the heroism of Firth’s King George VI.

Despite their strikingly similar appearances, Firth’s character in The King’s Speech—whom I cannot help thinking of as “Bertie”—differs from Darcy in one key particular: he is instantly and irrevocably lovable. We naturally sympathize with the vulnerable, and Bertie is vulnerable from the painful beginning of the film to its triumphant end. The imperfection that makes him so beautifully human, though, never even comes close to turning the king into a wimp. The man whose voice is paralyzed by a demanding father and the cruel taunts of an adored older brother is also the man whose sense of duty gives him the courage to face his greatest fear: the microphone.

There are too many scenes to count in The King’s Speech that bear out Bertie’s masculinity in the scenes of everyday life—or as everyday as things can get, anyway, for a stammering Royal Highness-turned-His Majesty The King. I love the part near the beginning when he tells Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret a bedtime story. It is the simplest and most delightful of paternal tasks, made painfully difficult by his speech impediment, but at which he categorically refuses to fail, because he will not disappoint his girls. The struggle that Firth makes so heart-wrenchingly obvious even in a two-minute-long tale about a penguin is the trial, and the triumph, running through George VI’s whole story.

The relationship between Bertie and Elizabeth throughout the film is another forum for the exercise of Firth’s Austenian masculinity, as is the friendship between the prince-cum-king and Lionel Logue, his somewhat unconventional speech therapist. Within and through these relationships, we see Bertie confront the typical challenges of the average human life—a demanding parent, a wayward sibling, the universal search for confidence—but magnified by his position, by a great responsibility to family and country. And we see him conquer them.

Bertie—King George—is not the stuff of myths. His character has flaws. His armor has chinks. He is human, and he is not invincible. But he is strong.

Colin Firth is masterful, his supporting cast is fantastic, the story of King George VI is inspirational, the screenwriting and cinematography are beautiful, and The King’s Speech is the best film of the year. See it.

Miriel Thomas Reneau
Miriel Thomas Reneau is a member of the Humane Pursuits editorial board. She has served as an ISI Honors Fellow, a John Jay Fellow, and an American Enterprise Institute policy analyst in constitutional studies. She endures many a sleepless night, though reports differ on whether this is due to her concern over federal courts’ equity jurisdiction or her addiction to caramel lattes. In her daytime hours, she can be found defending St. Augustine against Calvinist co-optation and T. S. Eliot against everyone.

5 Comments

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  • March 1, 2011

    Megan

    Wow. I hadn’t gotten around to seeing this and wasn’t sure that I would. I like Collin Firth

  • March 1, 2011

    Megan

    Oh! That published before I was done, sorry. I like him but didn’t know much else about the movie. After reading this I am convinced to see it.

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