KING's SPEECH: Wonderful, Delightful Oscar Buzzing Film

by Jeff Beck, Guest Film Critic

Editor's Note: The King's Speech opens at Marquee Pullman Friday. Our reviewer saw it in December in Richmond, Ky.

 

 

RICHMOND, VA (HNN) - “The King’s Speech” opens in 1925 with the Duke of York, second son of King George V, about to give a speech for the closing of the British Empire Exhibition. He approaches the microphone in a strangely hesitant manner as though he is walking to his demise. As he begins his address, the reason for his hesitation becomes perfectly clear. He is a stutterer who barely gets a few words out before freezing up. What a problem for someone who is expected to give speeches to have. What a great subject for a film.

 

The Duke of York, or “Bertie” (Colin Firth) as he’s called, tries to cure his problem by seeing several speech therapists, but none of them are able to do anything for him. His wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), seeks the help of another therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), whose methods for curing stutters are rather unorthodox. Bertie meets with him only to become frustrated with his unusual personality. Lionel believes that, in order to treat him, they must appear to be equals. This seems like a bizarre notion to Bertie, but after some initial hesitation and early results, he begins to see Lionel regularly.

 

Meanwhile, the royal family is troubled by the actions of Bertie’s brother, David (Guy Pearce), who is first in line to take over the throne from King George V (Michael Gambon). David is in love with an American, Wallis Simpson (Eve Best), who has apparently been divorced a couple of times, which is why everyone objects to his relationship with her. Eventually the king falls ill and dies leaving the crown on David’s (now King Edward VIII) head, but his insistence on marrying Wallis forces him to abdicate the throne to his younger brother, leaving the kingdom in the hands of a man who never wanted it. The situation becomes worse as war begins brewing in Europe with the rise of Hitler. When the time comes, the ears of the empire will turn to Bertie (now King George VI). It’s up to Lionel to help him find its voice.

 

The film becomes a fascinating and delightful exploration of the relationship between Bertie and Lionel. We slowly see how Lionel works through several sessions of which we only get a small glimpse. His methods include loosening up the jaw by shaking the head and body, rolling on the floor while reciting a passage, and practicing breathing by having Elizabeth sitting on his chest. These methods may seem strange, but they are much easier than those used by one of Bertie’s previous therapists who wanted him to talk with a mouth full of marbles.

 

This relationship is brought to life in several ways, but primarily by the brilliant performances from the leads. Colin Firth, who seems to be a shoe-in for the Best Actor Oscar next year, gives a superb performance as the stuttering monarch. He brings the right emotional touch to a character who is at his wit’s end as to what to do about his problem. Geoffrey Rush is equally magnificent as Bertie’s therapist. Rush, who has already taken home an Oscar for “Shine,” plays Logue as a man who truly wants to help, but on his own terms. Carter’s role as Bertie’s wife may seem like a simple one, but she plays it extremely well, showing the utmost care in getting Bertie the best help.

 

David Seidler’s screenplay also goes a long way toward building the friendship between these two men. It keeps the focus mainly on them while still filling us in on everything we need to know about what’s happening with the rest of the royal family. It’s a great mix of history, drama, romance, and a lot more humor than one would expect from a film like this. The humor is actually one of its great strengths. Without it, this could have simply turned into an overly-dramatic historical piece. Throwing some comedy into the speech sessions helps make them much more memorable than they otherwise might have been.

 

Helping to bring the whole film to life is the fantastic production design by Eve Stewart and elegant costumes by Jenny Beavan. The film is filled with beautiful sets from Lionel’s humble house where he helps Bertie, to Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey. The same can be said of many historical films and “The King’s Speech” is no exception. The detailed designs merely end up making a great film even better.

 

The film was directed by Tom Hooper, whose name you might recognize from “Elizabeth I” and “John Adams,” two excellent TV miniseries. From that, you can see that Hooper is no stranger to historical settings. He handles the entire film admirably, especially the few final scenes in which Bertie gives his first wartime speech. This section may sound like it’s rather anticlimactic (how exciting could a speech be?), but after watching all the work and determination that Bertie has gone through, it’s quite a sight to see. The film cuts back and forth between Bertie, trying to hold his nervousness at bay, his family, who are nervous enough for him, and citizens listening in. All of this occurs while the appropriately majestic sounds of Beethoven’s 7th play in the background. You couldn’t ask for a better set up for such an important speech.

 

“The King’s Speech” has been receiving a lot of Oscar buzz over the past few months, and after seeing it, it’s clear to see why. It will surely be a top contender. It’s a wonderfully delightful film filled with great performances, particularly from Firth and Rush. Don’t let the R rating fool you. It’s merely for a few quick uses of the f word, used as part of Lionel’s unorthodox methods. This is one of the best films of the year and should not be missed. 4/4 stars.

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