Movie ReviewsRating: 4.5 of 5 yaps

The King’s Speech

Everybody’s bad at something.

Perhaps you can’t shoot a basketball, or your spelling is atrocious. I, for one, have a terrible memory for names. What is universal about these myriad faults is that we all carefully protect our shortcomings by keeping them private or finding a way to work around them.

(Fact: I keep a chart of my street block so I know what to call my neighbors.)

But what if the one thing you were terrible at also happened to be the sole criterion by which everyone judged you? If your inescapable duty was confounded by your greatest disability?

Such was the fate of King George VI of England, who suffered from a crippling stutter. He was helped by an unconventional Australian speech therapist and was able to serve as an inspiration to his people during the dark days of World War II.

“The King’s Speech,” the film about his struggle, is straight out of the school of Inspirational Tales from History. What it lacks in novelty it makes up for in executing this type of movie-making about as well as it can be done.

Colin Firth as the king and Geoffrey Rush as his therapist offer a pair of tremendous performances, in roles that pop off the screen notwithstanding the constraints of a slightly staid screenplay (by David Seidler).

Despite being a loving father and husband, dedicated Navy officer and utterly loyal to the monarchy and his nation, Prince Albert (as he was known before his coronation) was belittled by his family simply because he stammered. Public speeches were embarrassing, halting disasters, both for Albert and the people who had to listen to them.

His father (Michael Gambon, in a brief but memorable appearance) regrets the new requirements technology forces upon the monarchy, like his annual Christmas speeches over the radio.

“Now we must invade our subjects’ home and ingratiate ourselves,” the king complains. “We have become actors!”

The second in line for the throne, Albert was safely shunted to minor appearances where he could keep a low profile, which suited him just fine.

It might never have mattered, until his brother Edward (Guy Pearce), after assuming the crown in 1936, abdicated a few months later to marry an American divorcee. It’s interesting to see the different portrayals of this event; Americans regard it as a grand romantic gesture, while Albert and his family see it as foolish and mortifying.

At the prodding of his wife (Helena Bonham Carter), the soon-to-be-king seeks help from Lionel Logue (Rush), whose methods are unorthodox, to say the least. He demands the prince come to his office, rather than calling at the palace. On his home turf, Lionel insists they treat each other as equals — even presuming to call the prince “Bertie,” a familial nickname.

There are also strange breathing exercises, tongue twisters, sung words and, most memorably, a spewed string of expletives that in and of itself earned the film an R rating. (It probably would’ve gotten a G otherwise.)

Lionel’s lessons intensify as Albert takes up the crown — even burrowing into his personal life. It is Lionel’s professional opinion that no child is born a stutterer; some kind of trauma compels them to be afraid of their own voice.

Firth is by turns droll, arrogant and sensitive as Albert/George — the sort of pampered son who has more grit and wry humor than anyone suspects. Asked by his daughter what Hitler is shouting about in a newsreel, there’s no hesitation to his comeback: “I don’t know. But he seems to be saying it rather well.”

Director Tom Hooper, who helmed 2009’s excellent “The Damned United,” recognizes the material for what it is and emphasizes its obvious strengths. “The King’s Speech” knows exactly how to get its point across.

4.5 Yaps

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7 Responses to “The King’s Speech”

  1. […] “The King’s Speech” has emerged as a strong frontrunner and is setting up for a commanding sweep of the Oscars come Sunday. With “The Social Network,” last fall’s critical darling, fading quickly and “Speech” riding a box office wave almost unprecedented for a talky historical film, the chance of any big surprises has been almost entirely drained from the proceedings. […]

  2. Emily M says:

    I didn’t much like this film, although my mom loved it. There were some funny moments, thanks to Geoffrey Rush, but Colin Firth’s Bertie came off as a little too pathetic and whiney for me…

  3. Emily M says:

    I didn’t much like this film, although my mom loved it. There were some funny moments, thanks to Geoffrey Rush, but Colin Firth’s Bertie came off as a little too pathetic and whiney for me.

  4. Connie says:

    Took my husband to see this movie. I knew it would be fabulous and it was. My hubby would have rather seen True Grit (which I want to see, also), but it didn’t fit into our time schedule. This is not the type of film that he would pick, but after seeing it, he had to admit that it was very good. Love Colin Firth and love, love Helena Bonham Carter. Maybe he’ll let me choose the movie next time, too!

  5. Danielle says:

    We were a multi-generational crew to see the film: my 74- and 80-year-old in-laws, my husband and myself (late 40s) and our teen child. All came out saying it was excellent, though the teen slightly favored Black Swan. Acting was fabulous all around for this film. There was no one I could point to as the weak link. I found the screenplay to be excellent, considering this was based on a true story about recent and current royalty, so one could only take it so far beyond truth. Many great wry one-liners to add interest. Definitely worth the admission price!

  6. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by The Film Yap, Christopher Lloyd. Christopher Lloyd said: Here's my film review of "The King's Speech." […]