Movie Review: The King's Speech
By Matthew Huntley
December 20, 2010
The King’s Speech works splendidly on a wide range of levels: as a funny and moving human story; as a document on an important but not widely known piece of history; and as an entertaining character piece with indelible performances. I went into it already aware of its high praise but still found myself responding to it on my own terms. That, I think, is the mark of a truly great film.
It tells the story of King George VI’s offhand rise to the English throne and chronicles his inexperience and anxiety leading up to World War II. The title of film is a double entendre, referring not only to the actual speech King George VI gave in 1939 to the British people letting them know their country was at war with Germany, but also to his attempt to overcome his “bloody” stammer.
After fumbling his speech at the British Empire Exhibition in 1925, the unbeknownst future king, Albert, a.k.a. Bertie (Colin Firth), seeks the help of traditional doctors to correct his impediment. Most of them have antiquated notions for addressing his problem, like telling his majesty to fill his mouth with marbles and enunciating. If such a method worked for the ancient Greeks, who’s to say it wouldn’t work now?
Bertie’s wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), seeks a different therapist, an Australian named Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). He’s not like the other doctors in that he isn’t as hell-bent on paying reverence to Bertie as much as curing him. In a dark, damp and dreary little office, where you have to close two doors to the elevator, Lionel tells Bertie, “My house, my rules.” His highness shall not smoke; he shall call Lionel by his first name; and he shall pay Bertie a visit every day, with no ifs, ands or buts about it.
As Bertie’s visits with Lionel proceed, he must also deal with familial issues like his aging father, King George V (Michael Gambon), who’s always put more emphasis on propriety than love; and his irreverently carefree older brother, Edward VIII (Guy Pearce). The film takes us through the history of George V passing away and leaving the throne to Edward, who would subsequently abdicate because he wanted to marry a twice-divorced American woman from Baltimore. With Bertie next in line, Lionel assures him he’d make a great king, but how can Bertie believe him when he can’t even speak?
One of the reasons I probably found The King’s Speech so thoroughly engaging is because I wasn’t aware of its history. I actually learned something watching this film. But even if you’re familiar with the events, it’s still appealing and involving because it puts its characters first. Despite it always relaying the current time and place, it remains a human story instead of just a filmed version of a textbook. David Seidler’s screenplay is ingenious the way it’s able to weave together the real-life events with the human drama and often laugh-out-loud humor.
Colin Firth is at the forefront of the picture and he plays stiff and nervous like no other. It helps that Firth already has a boyish face, which matches perfectly with his character’s timid disposition. He’s sure to receive a (deserved) Best Actor Oscar nomination and may even walk away with a win. But as good as Firth is, he’s often upstaged by the magnificent Rush, whose role as Lionel is more juicy and written with more punchy dialogue, or maybe it’s that Rush already brings so much to the table he transcends the writing. Either way, he creates a character so cheerful and affable a whole movie could be made about him. In fact, I would have preferred more scenes with Lionel simply reciting Shakespeare. There was just something pleasant about them.
The King’s Speech is the type of film where its individual parts — the writing, directing, acting and production values, accented by Eve Stewart’s visionary production design, which places us in a distinct 1930s England — come together seamlessly and we realize each artist is at the top of their form. Director Tom Hooper has crafted a picture that’s serious and light, deep and funny, and we’re able to relax and let it teach and entertain us. As a historical drama, the story’s eventual destination is perhaps inevitably preordained, but we’re still delighted by how it gets there.