The King’s Speech is a great film about British monarch King George VI from British director Tom Hooper. Hooper teamed with HBO to direct two award-winning features: Longsford and John Adams. Hooper’s 2005 Elizabeth I series won an Emmy, Golden Globe, and Peabody Award and focused on the last 25 years of her 45-year reign. Hooper might well be the modern-day master of the English historical drama. He’s a cinematic game-changer in that his dramas will attract new fans to the historical genre. This film has seven Golden Globe nominations including Best Drama and best dramatic actor - Colin Firth (A Single Man).
Firth is just brilliant as Prince Albert (AKA Bertie by friends) before taking the name George VI as king. His road to the monarchy is fraught with history: the death of his father George V, Hitler’s rise to power, declaration of war on Germany, the abdication of his brother King Edward VIII (Guy Pearce) to marry Wallace Simpson, and his biggest historical hurdle—the stutter which started when he was four.
The film’s title refers to a speech that the new king must deliver. It is his first declared-war speech. The country holds its collective breath because war has been declared and the news has to be delivered by a man who swallows the King’s English.
Geoffrey Rush is speech therapist Lionel Logue who becomes a speech coach and personal friend. In fact he accompanies the king at every speech he makes during the war. The film processes to that climatic speech that will be broadcast live to the British Empire.
Lionel demands that Bertie meet him on a human level, which becomes tense at times for both men. Logue’s experience tells him the future king was not born with the speech impediment but developed it over pscyhological damange early in life. They both probe his psyche to find the cause for the stutter. When the Prince’s lack of self-confidence and abuse by a trusted nannie is unearthed, it helps little to resolve his speech pattern.
Elizabeth (Helen Bonham Carter) is the one who finds Lionel Logue and plans to hire him to correct her husband’s speech. But first the men must meet, connect, and agree to terms for the therapy. Logue has unorthodox methods and is not vetted by the king or his men first, so when Lionel’s lack of credentials is discovered it threatens to end their work together before it begins. Logue must earn the trust of Bertie and then King George VI more than once as the men’s egos spar.
When the dust settles and the two are reconciled, they must work fast to prepare the king for his first official speech; they have only hours to work. Logue works out a strategy whereby he is in the space where the king will speak. He guides the king through this terrain like a conductor with his orchestra. There is much comedic relief found in Hooper’s film because Logue employs every trick in the book to keep the king focused so that he avoids the signature stammer in his voice. Oddly enough Bertie can curse, sing, and swear without missing a beat. So, the men combine these tricks with hilarious effect.
You don’t have to be an anglophile to love this film or to recognize that it will be remembered and honored by its peers in the New Year. The cast is stellar and it delivers theatrical performances worthy of Shakespeare. Don’t miss what will surely be best picture of 2010.
Directed by Tom Hooper; produced by Iain Canning; with Emile Sherman, Gareth Unwin, and Geoffrey Rush. Written by David Seidler. Run time: 111 minutes.