Watching a full-length feature film about King George VI’s speech impediment may not seem like the most exciting thing to do on a Friday evening. But thanks to an insightful script that focuses on the relationship between the monarch and his unorthodox speech therapist, this seemingly dry subject makes for an inspiring movie experience.
The King’s Speech opens with a terrific scene in which Colin Firth brings humanity and frustration to the part of the stammering Duke of York, Albert, as he struggles to deliver a public address at Wembley, much to the embarrassment of his people, and the sympathy of his wife Elizabeth (played by the superb Helena Bonham Carter). Not long after the death of his father, when his older brother Edward VIII (played by Guy Pearce) abdicates the throne in order to marry an American divorcee, Albert must find his voice as he steps up to become King.
Geoffrey Rush stars as the eccentric Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue, whose relationship with the King is not unlike that of Mr Miyagi and Daniel-san in The Karate Kid. Using strange techniques that include blurting out a string of cuss words, Logue helps the monarch deal with his debilitating stammer, and their fiery friendship ultimately forms the heart of this movie.
Taking a predictable, formulaic route to tell a feel-good, rousing story, The King’s Speech feels ‘safer’ than many of the other Best Picture nominees that it beat out at the Academy Awards last week. Yet, it redeems itself with two riveting performances that are hard to get out of your head. Firth, who won the Oscar for Best Actor, literally disappears into the role. He plays the character as a real person, who just happens to be a king, and he is comical and unnerving and desperate all at once. Rush, meanwhile, as the therapist who isn’t intimidated by the arrival of royalty on his doorstep, is cheeky and irreverent, and he shines in those scenes in which he riles the helpless king.
Dramatically filmed and proudly wearing a badge of self-importance, The King’s Speech is one of the most sumptuous films you’ll see. I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for The King’s Speech. A fine film, but not my favorite of the ten nominated for Best Picture this year.