“The King’s Speech” is by far the best historical film of 2010. In fact, it’s the only one I can think of worth seeing. Directed by Tom Hooper, Colin Firth plays Albert, Duke of York, but perhaps better known as King George VI. His reign as King of England at the advent of World War II was rather unexpected, as his older brother abdicated the throne to marry a divorced commoner. There is just one issue: the new King stammers constantly, and therefore his confidence is lacking. So his wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) takes him to see a doctor to help improve his speech. It’s like “My Fair Lady”, only with a whole nation in need of a strong leader at stake.
The doctor in question is Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), who in fact is not a doctor but has experience gained from helping shell-shocked soldiers from the last war recover. His straightforward manner and unorthodox methods offend Bertie (George’s nickname that Lionel insists on using) at first, but under Lionel’s tutelage he slowly begins to overcome his stammering, and as it becomes clear that he will in fact become the King of England, Lionel believes in the inner strength he possesses when no one else will.
“The King’s Speech” contains a splendid combination of humor, drama, and politics driven by some of the best performances of the year. Rush is equal parts quirky and wise as Lionel, while Carter, while not a main player in the film, maintains a strong presence as the supportive wife. But the best of all is Firth, who delivers what I believe to be the greatest performance by a male actor in 2010. Every George tries to speak but cannot, his nervousness, lack of confidence, and desperate struggle to overcome his impediment is evident in every facial expression, every gesture Firth makes. He creates a character that is easy to root for; he’s so vulnerable, yet the fire he possesses inside peeks through every so often in ways that are often humorous and exhilarating, and he’s impossible not to love.
“The King’s Speech” may be a period piece, but it has all the trappings of a well-made sports movie. All of George’s training culminates in the first speech he must give as King to the people of England over the radio, and that moment, waiting to see if he’ll perform well or if his stammer will stop him cold, is as thrilling a climax as any. And it’s all because the actors create such believable and likeable characters, and the screenplay doesn’t overemphasize the war or politics; after all, it’s a story of one man’s personal triumph—that man’s triumph just happened to affect millions of people around the world.
Runtime: 118 minutes. Rated R for some language.
Visit National Cinemedia to find showtimes for “The King’s Speech” in the St. Louis area.
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