It seems like every year there’s a movie about well-dressed English people from decades or centuries past nominated for a handful of Oscars. Usually such a film passes by the general public, and casual moviegoers tune in to the show to see it nominated and go “see, that’s why no one cares about the Oscars, who watches these movies?”
This year, that movie is The King’s Speech, and like it’s predecessor’s The Queen, Pride and Prejudice and so forth, it’s actually extremely worthwhile if you get over your pretentions and actually head to the theater to check it out.
The well-dressed English person this time is King George VI (Colin Firth), and the decade is the late 1930s as Britain teeters on the brink of war. But before he was either a King or a George, the man then known as Albert faced a challenge that would terrify any leader.
The film chronicles his battle with an exceptionally pronounced stammer, which plagues his public speaking events and makes him a target of ridicule for the nation. Not that big of a deal when he’s the younger brother to the future king, but as events would have it, he’s thrust into power despite his objections, and must stand resolute as a symbol of English pride in the face of German opposition.
After every doctor he sees fails him, his supportive wife (Helena Bonham Carter) turns to one man with extremely unorthodox methods, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), who claims he can cure anyone. He is of the belief that most speech impediments are psychological, not mechanical, and this causes him to get very personal with his clients, no matter what their station.
It’s a constant struggle to hold the patience of Albert, whom he calls Bertie, much to his highnesses displeasure. But eventually progress is made, and when he’s thrust into power, George VI greatest fear is not Hitler, but the microphone which will broadcast his first wartime speech to the nation.
Everyone is praising Colin Firth’s portrayal of George, and rightly so. For as long as it takes someone with a stammer to correct it, I imagine it takes an equally large amount of time for someone who speaks correctly to adopt one. And as he jolts and jerks through his sentences throughout the movie, you can actually see how much of an acting challenge this role is, something seldom seen in movies these days where it’s probably quite easy for Michael Douglas to play a slick tycoon or Angelina Jolie to play a sexy spy.
Here Firth has to work exceptionally hard at the part, to fake the stammer, but still come across as a likable, humble, though sometimes angry individual. But his George is ultimately sympathetic, especially in scenes where Geoffrey Rush’s Lionel brings out his inner insecurities.
The film itself makes you question the silliness of the royal family, as they’re all so detached from the real world it’s almost more sad than comedic. Albert’s brother, Edward (Guy Pearce), cries when he’s appointed king, then soon gives up the throne so he can marry a manipulative divorcee. Albert remarks that Lionel is the first “normal” person he’s ever really talked to, and comments on how he has no actual power, and doesn’t see what good the position of king really is, and it’s a mantle he doesn’t want.
It may seem a bit trivial focusing on a speech impediment as the greatest war in human history looms, but King George’s resolve is meant to echo that of his people, even if he is incredibly far removed from them.
Firth’s abilities here far outstrip anything we’ve seen from him before, and stuffy as the subject matter may seem, he brings a great deal of lightness to it all, and makes The King’s Speech a worthwhile Sunday afternoon movie pick.
4.5 out of 5 stars