King George VI struggles to overcome his debilitating stammer just before the onset of World War II.
Release Date: 24 December 2010 (USA)
Director: Tom Hooper
Cast: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter
The King’s Speech, written by British-American playwright David Seidler, himself a childhood stutterer, has an unusually literary theme for a film – the power of speech. The issue is explored both directly, embodied in the future King George VI’s battle with a severe speech im
pediment, and metaphorically, stressing the way a public figure’s image is shaped by his ability to express himself, especially in a time of fear and confusion.
It is a terrible thing to be born into a profession that you are somehow unsuited for by nature. This is made amply evident from the very first scene of the film as Prince Albert, Duke of York (Colin Firth) fights unsuccessfully to pronounce a brief speech at the 1925 British Empire Exhibition at Wembley Stadium, as hundreds of listeners look on in dismay and derision. The deep sense of frustration and humiliation he experiences is so palpable it makes you cringe.
The following montage of increasingly ridiculous treatment strategies makes it clear that Albert’s problem is not being dealt with efficiently. He is only the second son of George V (Michael Gambon) after all, so there is little chance that he will be called on to embarrass his family on a regular basis. His faithful and determined wife, played by a surprisingly sane and demure-looking Helena Bonham Carter, refuses to give up that easily and searches out her own expert – failed-actor-turned-amateur-speech-therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), known for his unconventional methods. Faced with the unrelenting Duchess of York, and as yet unaware of her true identity, Logue wonders why her husband chose a career in public speaking, and whether he might consider an alternative career path – an ironic question that many unfortunate kings may have liked to ask themselves.
Even when he learns the truth about his new patient, the confident and forceful Logue refuses to be intimidated and insists on referring to him as “Bertie” and maintaining an atmosphere of complete equality during treatment. An unusual friendship evolves as Logue delves deeper into Bertie’s physical and psychological problems with exercises that range from rolling on the floor, to hollering profanities, to building model planes.
As the royal family disintegrates and the world is thrust into the clutches of a new World War, Bertie unwillingly becomes George VI, and is faced with his greatest fear – the necessity to give a public speech that must reassure his frightened subjects and establish his image as king.
Colin Firth definitely proves himself as a true dramatic actor, maintaining the charm that made him famous while finding new levels of subtlety and vulnerability in a very difficult, barely verbal role. Geoffrey Rush does a good job of keeping up, and the dialogues between the two are sharp, witty, and well written. Helena Bonham Carter does step out of her extravagant comfort zone, but is relegated to the rather familiar stock role of “loving, supportive wife” and spends most of the film smiling wisely and sympathetically.
It is altogether a very quiet, introspective film, unburdened by elaborate effects or complicated camera moves that it doesn’t really need. This is hardly surprising for a film whose most exciting, climactic scene is the giving of a speech. Firth’s screen presence however, really makes it work, creating a moment that is moving, epic, and significant, even if it takes place in a tiny room in front of a microphone.