King’s Speech star being talked up for an Oscar: A film that gives a human side to the Royal Family and Danny Boyle’s telling of a real horror story are reviewed by Ian Soutar

From left to right, GEOFFREY RUSH as Lionel Logue, COLIN FIRTH as Bertie (King George VI) and HELENA BONHAM CARTER as Elizabeth in THE KING'S SPEECH. In cinemas Jan 7 2011
From left to right, GEOFFREY RUSH as Lionel Logue, COLIN FIRTH as Bertie (King George VI) and HELENA BONHAM CARTER as Elizabeth in THE KING'S SPEECH. In cinemas Jan 7 2011

THE story of how King George VI conquered a severe stutter thanks to a maverick Australian voice therapist, The King’s Speech (Cert 12A) is another film which succeeds in humanising the Royal Family by showing the personal side to a slice of history.

As with The Queen and Young Victoria, the trick of Tom Hooper’s film is to make us feel for the Royals but not to disguise the foibles.

The King’s Speech starts in 1925 with the then Duke of York, Prince Albert, opening the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley Stadium with a speech of long and excruciating silences.

His wife, Princess Elizabeth, watches in agony and determines something has to be done about his stammer and persuades her husband to consult a series of speech therapists without success.

In desperation, she turns up at the practice Lionel Logue runs from his modest family home.

At first there is a clash between the irreverent, unorthodox Australian and the uptight prince who does not expect to be addressed as Bertie by a commoner.

But the stakes are raised after George V dies and the new king, Edward VII, abdicates, leaving Bertie as the successor to the throne with a desperate need to be able to address the nation.

There is fun to be had as part of Logue’s therapy is to have the future monarch punctuate his speech with obscenities or cunningly goad him into losing his temper and suddenly become articulate.

Director Hooper orchestrates a marvellous climax as King George walks through the palace to a microphone amid high tension among onlooking royals, politicians and staff to deliver the speech to the Empire announcing the outbreak of the Second World War – with Logue in front flamboyantly conducting.

The performances are sublime. Colin Firth is being Oscar-tipped for his subtle, buttoned-up King but it is as much about Geoffrey Rush’s barn-storming turn as Lionel Logue, revealed as a failed actor rather than a qualified doctor, and Helen Bonham Carter’s portrayal of the future Queen Mother as fiercely loyal and loving.

There is fine support from the likes of Michael Gambon as the gruff George V, Guy Pearce as the feckless Edward and Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill.

Whenever a new Danny Boyle movie comes along, it is impossible not to remark on his versatility because it invariably is in a different genre from what he has done in the past – most recently with Slumdog Millionaire, his venture into Bollywood.

With 127 Hours (Cert 15) he has made a film that doesn’t really fit any category, except perhaps filming the unfilmable.

It is a true story, an adaptation by screenwriter Simon Beaufoy of Aron Ralston’s account of how he survived being trapped in a canyon by cutting off his arm.

Hardly sounds the ingredients for a night out but it is an absorbing film – and the potentially gruesome climactic scene is ingeniously dealt with.

By the time it happens you have been drawn into the story to the extent that you are willing him to do it.

It is a visually exhilarating film with Boyle’s camera getting inside the mind of Ralston to present memories and dreams and sometimes the body as well to bring energy and movement to what would otherwise be a static movie in a closed environment.

Ralston is an experienced canyoner who sets off into the wilderness without bothering to tell anyone, so that when he slips into a deep, narrow crevice and gets his forearm trapped between a boulder and the canyon wall he has little chance of being rescued.

Apart from an early sequence where he and a couple of girl hikers go swimming in a cavern and the people seen in flashbacks and hallucination, we are in the exclusive company of James Franco as Ralston.

He makes a cocksure hero who gradually learns humility through his ordeal and earns our engagement with his plight.

The ubiquitous Nicolas Cage is rarely off our screens and in Season of the Witch (Cert 15) he ventures into the world of sword and sorcery.

He and Ron Perlman are Crusaders who turn their backs on the church and return home to discover that the Black Plague has ravaged their beloved land.

Sorcery is blamed for the fatal outbreak and Cardinal D’Ambroise (Christopher Lee) summons the two knights to his deathbed and implores them to undertake a perilous mission to transport a young witch (Claire Foy) to a remote abbey, where the monks will perform a ritual to purge her tortured soul.

A rag-bag crew embark on the perilous quest and it is not long before some of the party begin to question if the girl really is a witch.

Although the cast is gradually whittled down through a series of trials, Season Of The Witch lacks either suspense or horror.