Some movies just make you feel good. The King’s Speech, a funny and touching historical drama, is one of them.
Kings of the Middle Ages could garner respect through battle exploits, fear or even just plain old good policy decisions. Kennedy beat Nixon, we’re told, because he was more telegenic. But when an heir to the throne must also become a war-time radio star what’s a stuttering monarch to do?
In the real-life case of Prince Albert (not in a can), you get horribly frustrated with yourself and avoid the microphone like the plague.
Albert (Colin Firth) prefers to sit at home and enjoy life as the brother of the man-who-would be king, all the better too since he can’t string a sentence together without a very pronounced stutter (or, as the movie prefers to call it, a stammer). Even after years of failed therapies, he’s not necessarily ashamed of his voice. In fact, he quite enjoys telling his daughters bedtime stories and has no qualms chatting with halting words with his wife, Princess Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter). But when he has to make the closing speech at a fair? Whoa Nelly, we’re in for some awkward British-ness folks.
Enter speech therapist and frustrated actor, Lionel Logue (Geoffery Rush). Through some amusing deception, Elizabeth arranges a meeting between Lionel and Abert, without the former being aware he’s consulting royalty. The way this plays out is sweetly funny, especially in the way Australian immigrant Logue behaves toward Albert. He refuses to regurgitate “your royal highness,” preferring to call the prince “Bertie.”
An official hello at a fair is one thing, but when King Edward (Guy Pearce), abdicates the throne to marry a divorcee (GASP!) named Wallis (DOUBLE GASP!) who is also an American (TURBO GASP!), guess who is on tap address an empire preparing for war? (HINT: He wishes he were in a can)
It’s a fairly straightforward plot, and we know what’s going to happen long before it does. But O! The simple pleasure of getting there!
Firth plays Albert as a humble man, one who you really wouldn’t mind calling King. His stammer is believable and not over-the-top, as many actors would be tempted to do. If there is anyone who can match Hugh Grant’s charming befuddlement, it’s Firth. You just want to like the guy. Rush’s performance is rich like a smooth scotch, or at least how I imagine a smooth scotch to be. His dangling jowls shake with each word and every second is enjoyable. The earnestness in his eyes is such that if he told me I could be a prima ballerina, I’d go out and buy a tutu. Helena BonhamCarter’s Elizabeth is a little under used, but her love for her husband and her ease with her position in life is just as enjoyable. It’s a testament to her gift as an actress that she can so ably disappear into this role, Marla Singer (Fight Club) or Bellatrix LeStrange (the Harry Potter movies).
Speaking of Harry Potter, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that this movie showcases two other HP alums: Michael Gambon (Dumbledore) as King George and Timothy Spall (Peter Pettigrew) as my boy Winston Churchill.
Director Tom Hopper creates an England that is refined, muted, and of course rainy. The sun never shines in London, least of all when war is looming. He portrays the climax of the movie, the titular speech on the eve of war, with a building dread that a mere microphone normally can’t command. Films about the British royal family are automatically fascinating to us Colonials, but this one is special. I have a friend with a stammer similar to Bertie’s (alas, he is not British royalty). I wonder what he would think of the movie. Other stutterers are singing its praises.
There is quite bit of language in this movie, so be warned. However, if there was ever a tasteful and acceptable example of gratuitous use of the f-bomb, The King’s Speech is it. It’s not profane; it’s therapeutic, much in the way nudity would not be out of place in an anatomy textbook. Upon my honor, you will not be offended.
My only problem was that since the broadcast studio is a closed room (and radio at the time is a static, tinny affair), why not get a voice actor to inspire confidence in the nation? The movie never addresses this obvious solution, but it may be that such a deception simply would not have been a Kingly thing to do.
A final note: Megan and I saw this movie the day US Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others were shot in Tucson. Much was said, good and bad, about President Obama’s speeches in the hours and days after the shooting. Just an interesting – and timely – illustration that in times of crisis, the way a leader appears is often equally as important as the actual actions taken. A friend texted me this about Obama’s press conference that day:
“I guess I expected more from it… I’ve watched too much West Wing.”
According to her, Obama just needed a modern-day Lionel Logue. And maybe a little bit of therapeutic cursing.