Yes, I know. “The King’s Speech” has been called yet another period piece in the Masterpiece Theatre mold or a glorified “Upstairs, Downstairs,” the upstairs being the British Royals and the downstairs the commoners, including physicians who tend to said Royals. And yes, the story is predictable and we know how it ends. Yet, and this is a huge yet, “The King’s Speech” is much more than the sum of its parts and much above the [few] disdainful comments of critics. It is a simply magnificent movie.
By now, everyone knows the story line of this unexpected and major Oscar contender which has already won scores of other awards including the Golden Globe for Colin Firth as best actor. In 1936, King Edward VII (an excellent turn by Guy Pearce) announces, astoundingly, that he abdicates in order to marry Wallis Simpson, a twice-divorced Baltimore socialite. The crown goes to his brother the Duke of York who will go down in history as George VI. Not only is he ill-equipped for this responsibility, not only are the times particularly trying—with Hitler’s rattling sword soon to shatter Europe—but the new and unwilling king has since childhood been afflicted with a stammer, rendering him insecure and afraid of the public eye. Becoming a fluent and articulate speaker acquires particular urgency after his brother abdicates. Long before there was any question of him succeeding his brother, he had sought help with this crippling handicap to find himself, after many consultations, into the hands of Lionel Logue, an Australian sometime-actor whose plaque in Harley Street reads “speech therapist.” In turn defiant and docile, the prince submits to the unorthodox methods of the man who calls him Bertie and asks to be called Lionel in return. The back-and-forth between the two men, each supported by a loving wife, takes us all the way to the final speech in which the king declares that Britain is at war with Germany following Hitler’s invasion of Poland. At this point, the music soars and so do our hearts and minds, fulfilled by this great story beautifully told.
The acting is truly awesome. Nowadays, athletes—be they tennis players, runners or X-game participants—accomplish incredible feats that leave us slack-jawed and wondering what they will do next. Snowboard down Everest? Jump parkour-style over the rooftops of Paris from Montmartre to Notre-Dame? Run a thousand miles without stopping? Actors are the same. Their performances become better and better and not only because of the perfect digitized images on enormous Cineplex screens and of voices booming through dolbied surround sound.
Colin Firth as Bertie is an inspired bit of casting by director Tom Hooper. His stuck-up Royal Highness must still convey the pain of a lifelong stammer, of an abusive nanny, of knock-knees straightened forcibly by painful metal splints, of the coerced conversion from southpaw to right-handed—the list of horrors never ends. (The makers of the film have taken some liberties with history.). The actor acquits himself beautifully of a difficult part. Then there’s Geoffrey Rush, hamming it just right as the uncompromising, authoritarian and compassionate Logue. Some of the most illustrious names of the British acting Pantheon—Helena Bonham-Carter, Guy Pearce, Michael Gambon, Derek Jacobi— also grace this cast.
“The King’s Speech” is enthralling from beginning to end. Not a false note and not a dead minute in all 118. It may not earn all 12 Oscars it has been nominated for but shouldn’t fall too far.
[ed-]”The King’s Speech” was originally reviewed by Craig Younkin in an earlier edition.