Many will probably look at “The King’s Speech” as one of those snobby British art movies, but this of course will say so much more about its so-called critics than anything else. The story of a man who, it is said, “bloody well stammers” and works to overcome this affliction which keeps him from completing sentences let alone a whole speech sounds more like one of those formula movies where we watch a human being triumph over personal obstacles with the help of a mentor. Then again, not many of those movies are about King George VI, and with this being “based on a true story,” it all adds more dramatic heft to this particular story even as I continually tire of that overused phrase.
Formulaic or not, “The King’s Speech” is a magnificent film which takes hat seems like an easy to overcome problem (or so others might think) and turns it into compelling cinema. This is in large part thanks to a wonderful cast that includes Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, and Helena Bonham Carter. There’s nary a single weak performance to be found here, and this was one of the best acted films of 2010.
Seriously, I bow down to Firth after watching him here. That he gives a brilliant performance is no surprise as he has had an amazing career to date, but this particular role seems all the more difficult for him or anyone else to pull off. Mastering the technical part of it and making the stammering seem utterly believable must have been a job unto itself. How do you get an audience to suspend disbelief and get them to believe you are seriously afflicted with such a seriously irritating impediment?
Now other actors would probably try to master the stammer to where they are not thinking about it. But with Firth, he digs deep into the role to get at who King George VI was as a person and what has affected him emotionally. That he gets at the heart of this character and creates such a vivid portrait of a leader many do not know much about is what makes his performance so damn good. As for the technical aspects of the role, I am guessing Firth saw this as secondary, but it should go without saying that he perfects the stammer from start to finish.
Then there is Geoffrey Rush who also served as one of this film’s producers. As Lionel Logue, the King’s speech therapist, he serves as the Mr. Myagi of “The King’s Speech.” Lionel gets the King to do a variety of exercises which are as physical as they are vocal, but his biggest challenge is in getting George to exorcise the personal problems which affect him and his speech more than anything else. All the tongue twisters and warm ups won’t do a thing until the King confronts the emotional scars which he has endured up to this point in life.
Ever since his Oscar winning turn in “Shine,” Rush has been one of the most entertaining actors in movies. I don’t know if it is his deep voice or incredibly dry wit, but he’s never boring in any film he’s in. Whether it’s as the Queen’s servant in “Elizabeth” or Jack Sparrow’s foe in the “Pirates of The Caribbean” movies, Rush has remained such a fascinating presence in one performance after another. Sometimes all it takes is a look or a move from him to get a big response from the audience, and it was a big audience when I saw “The King’s Speech” at a nearby theater. Seriously, seeing him strike a pose in a chair Lionel has no business sitting in is enough to get a big laugh, and that is saying a lot?
When it comes to Helena Bonham Carter, just how many great performances has she given us? It still does not feel all that long since she appeared in “A Room with A View,” and that film was made back in 1985. Still, she glides effortlessly from role to role, and it truly is impossible to pigeonhole her. Whether it is “Fight Club” or Tim Burton’s disappointing remake of “Alice in Wonderland,” she has proven capable of playing any role given to her with relative ease, and not many can pull this off these days.
As the King’s wife, Queen Elizabeth, Carter is sublime throughout. She makes Elizabeth both empathetic to her husband’s problems and very strong in the role which is suddenly thrust upon her. Her performance here is actually quite subtle, and you never really catch her acting. Seeing her interact with “commoners” is a delight as she comes off as professional but very polite and never snobby. I keep talking about actors who inhabit roles more than play them and Carter proves to be one of them here.
There are also other great performances to take note of as well in “The King’s Speech.” I was surprised to see Guy Pearce on board as George’s brother, King Edward VIII, whose passion for another overcomes his royal responsibilities. Derek Jacobi shows up as Cosmo Gordon Lang, the Archbishop of Canterbury, whose advisements to the King perhaps go a bit further than they need to. I almost did not recognize Michael Gambon as King George V, his booming voice covered up by a face which is very un-Dumbledore like. Claire Bloom also is wonderful as Queen Mary, and she is also another one of those actors you never catch acting. And then you have Timothy Spall who plays the famous British Prime Minister Winston Churchill almost as well as I did back in junior high school.
The cast of this movie, when you look at it, is a roster of those British actors who were not cast in a “Harry Potter” movie, and those who had somehow managed to find a break in between those movies to pop in for a performance here.
Seriously though, the story does have that setup of a person who asks for help from a “wise old man” and then keeps coming and quitting on him before coming back again for more lessons. But director Tom Hooper and screenwriter David Seidler keep it from ever becoming a routine film, and their attention to historical accuracy throughout is very commendable. Adding to this is the chemistry of the actors who interact with each other so well. I also have to say that the process of a man giving a speech to an entire nation has never seemed so exciting before I watched this film. “The King’s Speech” may not be an action thriller per say, but the last half had me on the edge of my seat.
Hooper brilliantly sets up the tension between King George VI and his audience right from the start. As we watch George at a local race, stumbling over a speech he is forced to give, Hooper really puts us into the mindset of someone with a serious problem of speaking in front of others. We are made to feel the way Firth’s character does, and we immediately sympathize with what he is going through. That scene hangs over our heads and the main characters all the way to the end to when, I guess you could say, George has his “Rocky” moment.
“The King’s Speech” was more than deserving of the accolades which were bestowed upon it back in 2010. While “The Social Network” would have been my choice for Best Picture at the 83rd Annual Academy Awards, there is no denying just how well made Hooper’s film was, and it still holds up to this very day.
* * * * out of * * * *