The King's Speech (2010)

Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on December 5, 2010 @

This year wit has been in short supply at the movies. Actually it's been in short supply in the whole country.

From England comes some replenishment. The King's Speech offers a much-needed dose of wit. It's a clever and engaging motion picture.

The dialogue has snap, panache, and charm. Ah, speech that matters. What a concept.

Based on actual events, starting in 1925, The King's Speech is the story of how the Duke of York (Colin Firth), who eventually became King George VI, tries to cope with his severe stammering problem with the help of Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), a commoner from Australia.

The Duke -- called "Bertie" by his family --, as son of the king, has a heavy burden to bear, that is made almost impossible by his inability to speak to the public with any success. His stammer makes him ineffectual. He tries to deal with it to no avail.

Then his wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) finds speech therapist Lionel, and life changes.

Bertie and Lionel make the odd couple of the year -- both smart, willful, and stubborn. To make it even more confrontational, the Duke has a temper.

Their encounters are struggles of will. The Duke says to Lionel, "You're peculiar." Lionel responds, "I take that as a compliment."

Their provocative spats evolve into mutual respect.

As their verbal and vocal wrestling is going on, events are making Bertie's ability to speak clearly of crucial importance. He becomes king when his older brother (Guy Pearce) gives up the throne for a twice-divorced American woman Mrs. Wallis Simpson (Eve Best).

When England declares war on Germany, the king is faced with a momentous challenge in trying to communicate with the people of his country.

Colin Firth probably is the front-runner for the Oscar as Best Actor. He gives a wonderfully nuanced performance, and he makes us feel the incredible frustration and fury that his character experiences. Firth makes Bertie's anxiety and embarrassment vivid ordeals with which we can relate.

It certainly doesn't hurt Firth's chances that he has the Weinstein promotion team behind him.

The rest of the cast is very worthy. Geoffrey Rush is outstanding as the quirky Australian. Helena Bonham Carter is appealing as the confident, supportive Elizabeth. Bertie's and her daughter Elizabeth is destined one day to become queen.

Guy Pearce renders an inventive, lively performance as the weakened, smitten man who gives up the throne for a divorcee. Eve Best [the best friend on tv's Nurse Jackie] effectively plays the influential Mrs Simpson.

Michael Gambon as King George V and Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill add spicy character.

Director Tom Hooper (director of HBO's celebrated John Adams series) keeps the focus on character. The cinematography by Danny Cohen and the production design by Eve Stewart are involving. Their emphasis is on dim halls, small rooms and darkened ambience rather than regal splendor.

The recognizable dress and old-photos-come-to-life add a credible verisimilitude.

The screenplay by David Seidler is nicely provocative, although the revelation about Lionel's credentials seems something of an afterthought. The film uses swearing creatively. When's the last time you heard that language have any vitality? It's usually facile and dead.

Long ago playwright David Mamet showed how verbal vulgarity was exhausted. The King's Speech returns it to its rightful value. It's amusing and has effect. I think Mamet would be pleased.

Despite the amusing pell-mell profanity and fallible confrontations, The King's Speech is sonorous.

It's an articulate paean to decency.

© 2000-2023 Tony Macklin