REVIEW: The King’s Speech [2010]

“There’s a ‘bob’ in it for you; you’ll go home a rich man”

Here is a film about the making of a king through speech, both as a wartime oration to the public and as rudimentary elocution, aptly named The King’s Speech. With Hitler’s rise at the cusp of WWII, the stability of the throne in England needed a strong figure. King George V (Michael Gambon) had grown ill and his heirs included an eldest son (Guy Pearce’s David) in love with a twice-married woman and the stately, yet horribly stammering Bertie (Colin Firth). Without much of a choice due to lineage and succession rules, George passed on before having the opportunity to see whether David would rise to the occasion, putting duty ahead of pleasure, or if the joke of the family would take over and sputter through. The illusion of royalty had long since been dispelled by this time—even Gambon relates how the position was more actor than leader, a figurehead retaining status to represent the people, while having little or no actual say in government dealings—so the job really only needed a leader to rally the nation around a singular cause with stirring words. Luckily Bertie’s wife, Helena Bonham Carter’s soon to be Queen Elizabeth, was able to find the one man able to unearth the king hidden beneath the shell of insecurities.

Tom Hooper has said the making of the movie was a personal journey for him. Working from a heartfelt and surprisingly witty script by David Seidler, the director, of both British and Australian descent, had the unique knowledge of what the relationship between English royalty and an Aussie commoner could hold. Geoffrey Rush’s healer of speech defects, Lionel Logue, knew right from the start his heritage could cause trouble if tasked to cure Firth. Stammering has very real connections to psychological trauma at a young age, necessitating Logue to build a familial friendship with his patient to be let inside the memories causing his affliction. There are definite intrinsic societal barriers for Bertie to open up with a ‘colonist’, especially when Logue insists on being called Lionel and to call the Duke of York by his personal nickname. Only equals can construct the trust needed to tackle the problem at hand—it is not smooth sailing. I don’t think this battle is in the forefront of the story, however; it takes a backseat to Bertie’s personal struggles with duty, family, and being able to both separate and combine the two.

Behind everything going on is the very real fact that a country’s image lies in the balance. King George V always knew, but could never articulate, his second born was the only son worthy of the throne. This might be why he was so hard on Bertie at a young age, using anger and punishment to attempt grooming him out of his handicap, readying him to step up as King. Even without the fidelity scandals of David, the Prince didn’t have the mental fortitude to stay true to the rules and regulations of office. The fact he’d willingly go against the church—which by being king means he was its head—and marry his divorced mistress shows he wasn’t capable of following the traditions necessary to keep up appearances. Whether England is run by Parliament and the Prime Minister or not, the people still look to the king and queen for guidance on actions and feelings. As such, they need a confidently voiced figure to find the correct mindframe, especially with war coming and emotional turmoil easy to cultivate. As a speech for Wembley Stadium many years before attests, though, the public wasn’t willing to blindly follow a stammering king seemingly unsure of his own words.

Since these political issues are ever visible, we as an audience are allowed to push them back and concentrate on the bond grown between Bertie and Lionel. It’s easy to infer Logue took the job for notoriety, but it would be a disservice to him. He doesn’t tell his family he has such a high profile client, he stays as far from the limelight as possible, and he uses unorthodox exercises to get results. Being a Duke and later King, Bertie can fall prey to outside voices and hypotheticals all he wants, but the truth ultimately rests in what he is experiencing. Throw away the therapist’s nationality, toss out his later revealed lie through silence, and forget his calm stubbornness to have his rules followed—the truth lies in the results. The two cultivate a very special bond, able to survive anything, and that’s what matters. A big part of their ability to do so resides in The Duchess’s humanity never letting her appear to be above anyone else in pride or ego as well as Mrs. Logue (Jennifer Ehle) for always standing by her husband, believing in what he does.

The King’s Speech becomes the perfect mixture of historical fact, emotional drama, and disarming humor. Rush is great as the sarcastic eccentric Logue, never shying from a bit of subversion or well-placed personal jab for laughs. You believe from his introduction that he can get the job done because of confidence in his methods and knowing success from experience rather than studies. The role is necessarily opposite to all Bertie is and therefore the only person able to break the Duke from his stuffy, stiff upper lip mentality. But while Logue is the reason, it’s Firth’s portrayal of the future king showing the transformation. His stammer is impeccable, his haughty demeanor exudes status, and his introspection constantly shows his fallibility and ability to acknowledge help when given. Forever laughed at, his Bertie must overcome a lifetime of repression to shine as the man he was born to become. Firth deserved an Oscar last year for his role in A Single Man and I’d be hard-pressed to give you another name able to usurp the accolade once more an award season later. Hooper lets his actors run free and do what they are capable of while keeping a firm grip on aesthetics through exciting, asymmetrical frame compositions and unrivaled visual authenticity. I had my doubts going in, but this film truly is one of the years best.

The King’s Speech 9/10 | ★ ★ ★ ½

[1] Colin Firth as King George VI and Helena Bonham Carter as the Queen Mother in Tom Hooper’s film THE KING’S SPEECH. Photo by: Laurie Sparham/ The Weinstein Company
[2] Gefforey Rush as Lionel Logue in Tom Hooper’s film THE KING’S SPEECH. Photo by: Laurie Sparham/ The Weinstein Company.
[3] Colin Firth stars as King George VI in The Weinstein Company’s The King’s Speech (2010)

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