Title: The King’s Speech
Directed By: Tom Hooper
Starring: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Gambon, Guy Pearce, Timothy Spall
When considering the basics of The King’s Speech, there’s really nothing particularly alluring about it. It’s a period piece about a Duke with a stutter. Yes, that’s basically true, but there’s more to this film than can ever be conveyed in even the most detailed synopsis. The combination of spectacular performances and masterful direction turns this story into an all-consuming emotional experience.
Based on a true story, Colin Firth stars as Albert, the Duke of York. As the son of King George the V (Michael Gambon), Bertie (the nickname used by his family) is required to speak publicly quite frequently. The problem is, Bertie has a speech impediment; he stammers. He’s seen a number of speech therapists, but nobody’s been able to fix the issue or get a handle on the Duke’s poor attitude. The only one able to quell is frustration is his wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), who refuses to let him succumb to his stammer.
She finds an Australian speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), whose treatment involves rather unusual methods and decides to put the Duke in his care. The men bump heads right from the start with their first meeting coming to an abrupt end when Bertie blows up and storms out of the room. However, Bertie slowly begins to open up to Lionel and just in time too, for his older brother’s (Guy Pearce) antics will have the Duke in the royal spotlight much more and far sooner than he ever expected.
The King’s Speech rips your heart out right from the start. The Duke of York is frozen in front of a crowd at the closing ceremony of the 1925 British Empire Exhibition at Wembley Stadium; the words just won’t come out. It’s painful to see him so helpless. The moment becomes increasingly excruciating as the camera cuts to individuals eagerly awaiting his address and even more so when we catch a glimpse of his wife, clearly distraught herself.
From then on, even with Bertie’s temper, it’s impossible not to sympathize with him. Between the stellar character development and Firth’s impeccable performance, the Duke is an endlessly fascinating individual. It’s particularly remarkable how much he transforms during the film, going from the Duke of York to the King of England, and all the while we’re still learning so much about his personality beyond the sheer series of events.
Everything in this film not only has a purpose, but a profound one. Even the simplistic issues like the Duke’s displeasure with Lionel’s choice to breach protocol and call him by his nickname rather than his royal title, bear an incredible amount of weight. In fact, that’s the key to so many memorable moments in this film; their simple yet monumental.
While this is a film about speech, we aren’t drowned in dialogue. We get an exceptionally minimalistic form of editing which suits the cinematographer Danny Cohen’s camerawork wonderfully. Combined, these features allow us to linger on visually stimulating shots enhanced by just the speech that’s necessary. Yes, there is a work-in-progress montage, but even that is handled at a rather slow pace and only filled with wildly amusing anecdotes from Bertie and Lionel’s work together. Hooper knows how to generally hold an audience’s interest and how to precisely attract the eye to particular portions of the frame and the mixture of those assets works wonders.
As notable as these technical elements are, they never overshadow the stars of the film, they only serve to enhance them. As fantastic as Firth is as the Duke, the performance that’s downright incredible comes from Rush. It really is too bad Christian Bale will likely be in the running for the supporting actor Oscar this year because both he and Rush are so deserving of that statue. From Rush’s very first scene, he emits such a warm and loving sensation, Lionel becomes an immediate source of comfort.
Even after noting all of these highlights, we’ve yet to reach the best part of The King’s Speech, Bertie and Lionel’s relationship. We trust Lionel and desperately want Bertie to do the same. This genuine hope makes the first portion of the film incredibly interesting and emotional. There’s fun to be had, arguments erupt, dark secrets emerge and you’ll feel the effects of them all. Even when the duo moves past the bonding stage, their connection continues to grow and enchant. Lionel is a well-meaning loose cannon. He’s always out to help Bertie, but frequently disrespects the royal hierarchy in the process. On the other hand, as quick as Bertie can be to throw a temper tantrum, he’s quite a predictable character. This clash of personalities keeps the tension high and also serves as fuel to Bertie’s transformation, making that aspect of the story all the more profound.
There’s no better way to wrap up this review than just stating the obvious; The King’s Speech deserves to be honored. Everything about it – the story, the performances, the visuals, the editing – is immensely moving. While The King’s Speech comes to an end at the dawn of England’s entrance into World War II, King George VI and Lionel’s relationship did not. The film’s conclusion is quite satisfying thanks to a sequence of title cards, but there’s a well-deserved desperation for more.