Rumor is that King’s Speech will win Best Picture at this year’s Grammy Awards. So why do I have to go to out of the way theaters in order to see it? Oh, I see, because it does not have any special effects, it takes place in stuffy old England around World War II, it is not marketed to the youth crowd and deals principally with the unpleasant subject of stuttering. In addition, it is full of old people, or at least people outside of Hollywood’s prime demographic. Indeed, it might not have been made at all if it had not been for Great Britain’s national lottery, which funded the film. So this is a movie funded by government socialism. That should keep conservatives from going, even though Winston Churchill shows up.
Yet despite its socialist funding, it’s a terrific movie, and hopefully Great Britain will get its share of the profits. They could use some extra money right now. Of course, if you fill a movie with great actors you are much more likely to get a great product. King’s Speech has plenty of them: Colin Firth as King George VI, Helena Bonham Carter as his devoted wife, Derek Jacobi as Archbishop Cosmo Lang, Guy Pearce as King Edward VIII and Geoffrey Rush as the King’s speech therapist Lionel Logue.
You would think that there could not be much tension in a movie about a prince with a speech impediment. You would be wrong because Prince Albert (as he was known back then, and to intimates as Bertie) has a chronic problem that is manifested in a fear of public speaking. Moreover, his brother Prince Edward is hopelessly infatuated with a twice-divorced woman from Baltimore. He eventually abdicates his throne, leaving Bertie as the reluctant speaking-impaired king. Then there is that mustached menace across the channel, which means certain war with Germany, and the singular requirement for the king to rally his nation to war. The tension could hardly be higher, particularly as we learn that Edward’s abdication is unprecedented. Britain needs its king now more than ever. Failure of the King to step up and rally his nation might be fatal.
Bertie feels his speech impediment is hopeless and does his best to ignore it, but his wife Elizabeth is made of sterner stuff. In desperation, she confidentially seeks out an obscure and uncredentialed speech therapist who specializes in stutterers and who practices out of a basement office in a dodgy part of London. Lionel Logue, as played by Geoffrey Rush, is peculiar himself, having emigrated from Australia. There he helped shell-shocked World War I soldiers restore their speech through therapy that was part psychotherapy. Prince Edward turns out to be his toughest case, particularly when Lionel insists they address each other as peers. Their relationship, which will eventually blossom into a deep friendship, is strange and stormy but forms the core of this intimate movie.
Director Tom Hooper and writer David Seidler give us a gloomy, fog-filled England, which is perhaps metaphorical but is typical of its climate. The movie is wonderfully intimate, full of the complexity of being inside the royal family, which includes many charms and burdens. Bertie is portrayed as a devoted father who is blessed with a loving and caring wife. This is quite a contrast to his father, King George V (played by Michael Gambon) who was both physically and emotionally abusive with his children. It’s a wonder that Bertie developed only a speech impediment given his unassertive nature, his domineering father and the indignities that he endured.
I would probably not give King’s Speech a best picture award, but it is very well done with fine acting throughout. It is neat to get something of a backstage pass into the life of royals, and to see them as people instead of stereotypes. Most of us will have no problem feeling empathy for Bertie. Helena Bonham Carter’s role as Queen Elizabeth (King’s consort and future Queen Mum) is exceptionally well done, and somewhat out of her typecast. Geoffrey Rush portrays Lionel as somewhat weird and awkward himself, which is perhaps why he can be so therapeutic with the king.
3.3 points on my four-point scale.
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