Movie Review - The King's Speech
The King's Speech won four Academy Awards this year, including Best Actor, Best Writing, Best Director and Best Picture. It was not my choice for those categories, but I certainly can't argue over this selection.
There was talk in light of this film's Oscars that its producer Harvey Weinstein would have the movie re-edited to give it a PG-13 rating. It was likely in order to do so that Weinstein would only need to cut out the swear words. This is unnecessary due to the fact that this film is already family-friendly. It contains no sex, no violence, and the few swear words it does have are within a comedic context.
Colin Firth plays King George VI starting in 1925 before he was coronated and going up until 1939 when George VI, nicknamed Bertie, had to give his first wartime speech as King, following Hitler's invasion of Poland. The problem is that Bertie has a speech impediment. He has a self-proclaimed stammer that during times of distress prevents him from almost saying anything at all.
Geoffrey Rush co-stars as Lionel Logue, an Australian actor who adores Shakespeare and who is hired as Bertie's therapist to help alleviate the stammer. Bertie's wife, Elizabeth, the Duchess of York, played by Helena Bonham Carter, approaches Lionel and finds that despite being royals she and Bertie have to conform to Lionel's rules.
An alternative title could have been "The King's Therapy." Once the movie gets going, it becomes all about Lionel's sessions with Bertie. He's resistant at first, but Bertie gradually comes to trust Lionel. Over the course, we see that trust bloom into a friendship.
At times reminding me of one of my favorite TV series, HBO's In Treatment, this movie really is all about the interactions between Bertie and Lionel. Firth has the more difficult role. He has to make the stammer believable and not comical or like a schtick. He has to show progression of the stammer getting better. He also has to show the pressure from his father and the need of his country for him to overcome his fears, and, no question, Firth nailed it.
Rush has to be a stern yet encouraging teacher. He has to be a respectful yet challenging therapist, and he has to be a charming yet honest friend. No question, Rush nailed all of that too. Dare I say, Firth and Rush had great chemistry.
Writer David Seidler gives them great scenes on which to chew. I particularly enjoyed one unlikely therapy session. In the wake of the death of Bertie's father, Lionel gets the Duke of York to open up about his childhood. How Lionel engages him and how Bertie reveals intimate details like his teasing, his abusive nanny and his brother's death are heartbreaking.
Director Tom Hooper gives them great space and frames them as to showcase them brilliantly as well as showcase the handiwork of his Oscar-nominated Cinematographer and Set Dresser. The staging and space are nothing short of gorgeous. In fact, Logue's office, his consulatation room as it were, was rapturous in its appearance. The camerawork goes from august and still to working-class and lively, balancing the effect the two men have on each other. The movements made in the montage where Lionel teaches Berties the mechanics are one great example.
Obviously, the sound is important as this is a movie focusing on a man's speech, but nowhere is that most apparent is toward the end. The incorporation of music becomes crucial. However, by the end, Firth's voice rises beyond words and vibrates in a rhythm. His speech might as well have been a song because Firth hits the high and low notes in perfect harmony. The action and direction of Rush composes him as a kind of orchestra conductor.
What Seidler also boasts is insightful commentary on the role that radio broadcasting and consequently broadcasting in general has had on leaders of countries. It's turned politicians as it were into mere performers, actors who have to get up and essentially dance for the public, or in the least smile and wave. It's also not that absurd to see Bertie's stammer as a type of stage fright.
Seidler also reveals, for those who aren't up on British history, the drama surrounding how Bertie became king. It's intriguing. Along with Guy Pearce who had a small role in last year's Oscar-winner for Best Picture, The Hurt Locker, it adds a bit of spice to a very sweet film.
Five Stars out of Five.
Rated R for some language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 58 mins.