The King’s Speech

Prince Albert of England certainly does have his share of problems.  Plagued since youth with a perpetual stammer, his position in the realm requires him to speak publicly at a growing number of ceremonial occasions.  A particularly painful address at Wembley Stadium is dramatized by screenwriter David Seidler in excruciating detail at the beginning of Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech.  

Colin Firth does a masterful job of portraying the king’s halting delivery before an unmerciful microphone that amplifies every repeated consonant and syllable.  As difficult as this is for the reluctant prince, events on the world stage such as Hitler’s rise to power, King George’s death, followed by the swift ascension-and abdication of Albert’s brother Edward (giving it all up for “the woman I love”) will cause Prince “Bertie” to become a very unhappy King George VI.  In desperation, Albert and his wife (charmingly played by the beguiling Helena Bonham-Carter) turn to a somewhat unorthodox expatriate Australian speech therapist (a quietly compelling, immensely likable Geoffrey Rush) who insists on a degree of equality with the man who might soon be king—or no deal. And there’ll be a need for stirring speeches from Albert, especially as England moves to the brink of war…

Well, enough with the history lesson.  The King’s Speech, like its title, works beautifully on many different levels.  It succeeds as a look at the royal family in turmoil, from events both within and without (Guy Pearce makes a good haughty, lovestruck Prince Edward); it captures the tumultuous times– and the emerging power of technology to make or break people and nations.  However, the movie, in spite of the world-shaking events in the background, most strongly succeeds as a very intimate look at two strong-willed individuals who have something to prove despite (or because of) feelings of insecurity and inequality.  To look at the well-developed, witty, occasionally intense scenes between Geoffrey Rush and Colin Firth is to view master classes in the art of acting.  One marvels at what they can do with phrases, inflections, looks, and timing. Their first scene when they meet at Rush’s workplace and proceed to poke, prod, and generally test each other; the lovely scene where Rush introduces the royals to his wife (he hasn’t told her!); the gradually heated walk during which Rush challenges Firth to be as good a king as he can, should the situation arise—which is interpreted as “treasonous” by Firth; the emotionally charged confrontation at the dress rehearsal before the coronation where Firth berates Rush for not being “official.”  Such scenes from the heart of the piece, but there are other pleasures: the sterling supporting work of Derek Jacobi, Jennifer Ehle, Michael Gambon (as a formidable King George); the scoring by Alexandre Desplat; the artfully recreated period settings.  In the end, The King’s Speech is an extremely satisfying work that has all the attributes of high quality filmmaking: a strong, insightful script conflict and, players at the top of their game, assured direction.  If only we had more films like this… 

Watch the trailer: 


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