The King’s Speech (2010, The Weinstein Company—US)
The story of King George VI of Britain, his impromptu ascension to the throne and the speech therapist who helped the unsure monarch become worthy of it.
Directed by Tom Hooper. Screenplay by David Seidler. Starring Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush & Helen Bonham Carter.
Executive Producers: Paul Brett, Mark Foligno, Geoffrey Rush, Tim Smith, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein.
Imagine stepping before a captive audience, dead silent and staring at you, awaiting to hear your every word. Imagine you’re addressing this audience at the Wembley in London and your speech is being broadcast across the entire nation via this new-fangled wireless thing called ‘radio’. Oh yeah, you’re the Duke of York who’s painful, halting stammer reduces you to a sputtering, sweating, physically uncomfortable to watch shell of a man. And so opens the story of “Bertie,” the Duke of York who will one day assume the throne of England amidst scandal and a looming war with Adolph Hitler.
In his typical, enveloping manner, Colin Firth’s portrayal of the Duke is so engrossing that every flex of his throat creates a mood and temperament. He is truly at his best in The King’s Speech when director Tom Hooper brings the camera in so tight you can see the pores on his face. Firth, as he was in A Single Man, is mesmerizing. Every nervous tick of his stammer makes you wince and feel the character’s pain.
Helena Bonham Carter turns in one of the most muted performances of her career as King George’s wife Queen Elizabeth. I’ve always loved her ability to steal scenes, but in The King’s Speech she strikes a perfect balance of empathy and humor without chewing any scenery.
While Carter and Firth together as wouldbe king and queen of England have an endearing chemistry, Firth is at his best onscreen with Geoffrey Rush, who plays the Duke’s cavalier, disarming speech therapist Lionel Logue, who refuses to offer the Duke any royal protocol, calling him “Bertie,” a name usually reserved to family. No dialogue is wasted between Firth and Rush, swaying back and forth between building trust, escalating tension, anger and ultimately mutual respect and admiration.
Credit director Hooper and his crew for bringing to life pre-WWII England with texture and subtlety without overshadowing the performances. While the scenes are composed with artistry and depth—taking full advantage of the aesthetics to bring us into that world—the world never dominates. At the movie’s crescendo as Bertie, now King George, must deliver the most meaningful speech of his life as England braces to enter WWII, Hooper spares nothing, drawing his audience into that cramped, claustrophobic room to watch and feel the dance taking place between Firth, Rush, the speech and the King’s foil: the microphone.
The King’s Speech is so well constructed down to every detail, it typifies what you think of when you hear the term “Oscar-worthy.” Its tone, dialogue, photography, design and acting is nearly flawless. Even Lionel Logue’s modest, semi-rundown office has a certain majesty about it. The King’s Speech is inspiring, captivating, emotional and ultimately uplifting.
**** stars (out of 5)