Rapid Review: The King’s Speech
The King’s Speech is by far one of the best movies of the year. It doesn’t have a mind-warping premise a la Inception, or a world-changing demonstration of technological flash. What it does have is one of the most powerful film performances on record from Colin Firth as the stalwart King George VI of England, a man who was never expected to be king, but eventually became much beloved by the people for his sincerity and caring during the game-changing events of WWII. Thank goodness he did become king, because his wayward brother Edward VIII (who gave up the throne to marry the notorious Wallis Simpson) was certainly not up to the challenges ahead.
George (who was known as Albert for most of his life) was a retiring man, content to raise his family (including the current Queen Elizabeth II) out of the shadow of public scrutiny. Luckily, his wife Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (the late Queen Mum) was a charismatic and practical gal (here played with wit and charm by Helena Bonham-Carter) who wisely steered him towards becoming both a king and a man much respected by the British people.
George had a speech impediment – a noticeable stutter that in an ordinary person would be an embarrassing problem, but in a reigning monarch is a public image catastrophe of the first order. It is his wife’s idea that the future King George see a speech therapist – a radical idea for the times. This therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) is an Australian, and perhaps doesn’t have the innate awe of the monarch and his kin that comes naturally to most British citizens. His methods of therapy are “unorthodox” in that they consist of both physical and mental strategies that involve the use of concentration, music and movement. They also tend to make a person vulnerable and uncomfortable, which are situations most Kings of England perhaps tend to naturally (and perhaps by divine right) avoid.
This means that George has to form a bond and a system of trust with the wry and unflappable Logue, and it is rough going at first. It would, however, lead to a life-long friendship, and this touching and interesting story is all the more powerful due to its basis in historical fact.
Both Rush and Firth dive into their roles with such sincerity and depth that it is impossible not to be drawn into their dynamic story. Tom Hooper, who is best known for his directing of the incredible HBO miniseries John Adams as well as the another fantastic HBO endeavor, the Helen Mirren-fronted Elizabeth, is here in familiar period piece territory. Having said that, this is a remarkable first big budget feature from a director who excels at bringing out the best in his leading actors. The screenplay by David Seidler is honest and refreshing, never becoming overtly sappy, sentimental or preachy about its subject matter.
All three of the main leads (Firth, Rush and Bonham Carter) give the best performances of their careers, and the supporting cast is full of the usual Brit and Australian scene-chewers we’ve come to know and love over the years, including Michael Gambon as George V, Derek Jacobi as Archbishop Cosmo Lang, Guy Pearce as Edward VIII and Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill.
This is a movie that is not about the perils of war,or the gravitas of ruling a kingdom, but about one man’s complex and triumphant battle over his own insecurities. It’s easily going on my Top Five Movies of the Year list.
See it while you can. It is currently playing at several Arts theaters in K.C.,and is also a part of AMC theaters “Indpendent” series.
Overall Grade: A +