A few months back, as I looked over the end-of-year movie schedule, I couldn’t help but be more than a little disappointed with the holiday offerings. I was stoked about “True Grit” and “The Fighter” but other than those options, “Tron Legacy” was about the only thing that had any appeal whatsoever. But as the month approached, buzz about “The King’s Speech” began making the rounds and after initially dismissing it as a subject I wasn’t interested in, I finally succumbed to my influences and partook in the Colin Firth fervor. And lo and behold, peer pressure isn’t near as bad as my old D.A.R.E officer would have had me believe! (Note to kids: I’m kidding, peer pressure totally sucks. Stand strong!)
“The King’s Speech” tells the riveting story of the man who would come to be Britain’s leader in World War II. We open in 1929 as Prince Albert/the Duke of York/George VI (Colin Firth) steps up to a newfangled device known as the microphone to address the global British Empire. Unfortunately, the prince suffers from an extreme speech impediment that makes it near impossible to complete a full sentence without stammering. A few years and a plethora of doctors later, George’s wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) enlists the help of one last specialist. Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) is a quirky Australian who claims to be able to heal anyone who wants to be healed. After some hesitation, George begins to buy into Logue’s odd methods and steadily sees an increase in his vocal abilities. This is all put to the test, however, when his brother, Edward VIII (Guy Pearce), is forced to abdicate the throne and George is given control of Britain at a dangerous time. With war on the horizon, George must face his fear and deliver a speech to rally the Empire.
I confess that my ignorant American education left me with no knowledge of these events. (Sorry, Britain.) I’ve gone through periods of great interest in WWII but in true Westerner form, that interest has focused almost entirely on the American involvement. Whenever a film like this reaches theaters, I’m always shocked that it has taken so long for the story to be told. Perhaps the Brits know this subject matter so well that it didn’t need to be dramatized or perhaps no one thought Americans would care to see this. But regardless of the reason, man am I glad it’s finally come to the forefront.
“Speech” could be used as a teaching tool for how to make a historical drama. The performances are amazing, the runtime is sufficiently concise, the drama is built organically and without heavy-handedness, and it stands out in all technical departments. From a story standpoint, you could not ask for a better tale than the one director Tom Hooper and screenwriter David Seidler were given. For their parts, however, the pair doesn’t waste time trying to spice the narrative; they simply let the story be told, a novel concept in Hollywood these days. Hooper seems to understand the use of space in front of the camera as well as anyone in the business and chooses his shots brilliantly, bringing attention to tiny details of the set that serve to strengthen the atmosphere of the film. In addition, the use of color and a subtle soundtrack are strokes of genius.
I’m not exactly sure when Colin Firth went from “Likeable-but-Plain with an Accent Guy” to “Could Win an Oscar Every Time Guy” but the transition certainly suits him well. He absolutely shines here, delivering what has to be considered a career-best performance. Just like Christian Bale in “The Fighter,” Firth earns extra points in my book for a near-perfect depiction of a real-life person with a disability. It is so incredibly hard to play a character with an addiction, a mental handicap, or a speech impediment and make that character come across as authentic rather than caricature-like. His final speech is a work of art. Rush shines in his own right, providing a down-to-earth base for both the characters on screen and the audience. He’s accessible and that fact brings the audience into the film, helping to connect the viewer to the story. Carter, Pearce, and a few other actors take full advantage of their moments in the spotlight, but the fact of the matter is, “Speech” begins and ends with the work of Firth and Rush.
It should be noted that this type of film isn’t really my cup of tea. More often than not, I avoid historical dramas and period pieces because the ones I have seen bore me to tears. “Speech” may force me to reexamine my prejudice. A dose of genuine heart and an outrageously witty, self-deprecating sense of humor provide the finishing touches to a tremendous finished product. This is (forgive the pun) a crowning achievement in film and one that I would recommend to any movie goer.
Even this movie’s poster is awesome,
If you're interested in knowing what King George VI actually sounded like, please check out the link below. He begins speaking at about the 3 minute mark.