A superbly told, if unsurprising, period drama
by Jason Blair
THE KINGS SPEECH: Directed by Tom Hooper. Written by David Seidler. Cinematography, Danny Cohen. Music, Alexandre Desplat. Starring Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter , Guy Pearce, Derek Jacobi and Michael Gambon. The Weinstein Company, 2010. R. 118 minutes.
Imagine on the one hand being a lifelong stutterer, a person who cant say "person” without tripping over his tongue, while at the same time being occupationally required to address people by the millions. Such was the dilemma of Albert, Duke of York, who abruptly ascended to the British throne in 1936 as King George VI. In the new film starring Colin Firth as Albert, this verbal tic is referred to colloquially as a stammer, but Firths performance is so effective at isolating the pain from the speech defect that it seems more like a seizure in his throat.
After a series of embarrassing early public addresses, Alberts wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) approaches Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) for help. Talk about a last resort: While Albert has already been subjected to treatments such as cigarettes and sucking on marbles, such quackery at least came shrouded in decorum. Lionel, by contrast, immediately refers to the Duke as "Bertie,” his private family nickname, and before long makes the treasonous suggestion that Bertie, not his elder brother David (Guy Pearce), is the more fit for the soon-to-be-available throne. Lionel is an impresario ã "my castle, my rules,” he says of his studio ã whose intent is to drive out the stammer by digging into Alberts underlying hurt, a course of treatment to which the monarch-in-waiting is overwhelmingly opposed.
So begins the thrust-and-parry action of the primary relationship in The Kings Speech, a snappy, pert and intelligent film that, while sometimes pat, tells a small story exceedingly well. The film is to be enjoyed both for the impossibility of its central relationship ã a pauper essentially becomes a confidant to a king ã as well as the top-notch performances evoking their incredible true story. Lionel, an eccentric and overlooked figure at home, BRING's his corrective powers to bear on the leader of the free world, who cant finish a sentence without appearing to choke. If theres little doubt that by the time of Alberts 1939 wartime address, hell be cured of his tongue-tying ways, theres still a great deal of fun in watching a film as organized and lavish as The Kings Speech.
While Firth gives arguably the years best performance for the second consecutive year (last year in A Single Man), Rushs Lionel, while requiring less flourish than Firths Albert, is the emotional authority at work in The Kings Speech. Rushs voice has deepened into an almost perfect instrument, calling to mind Tommy Lee Jones, and like Jones, Rushs face is a craggy monument to the long-suffering underdog. The surprise treat of Kings Speech is the return of Helena Bonham Carter, who emerges from whatever acting gulag she removes to when not doing Harry Potter or Tim Burton films with a curt and spirited performance as Elizabeth. Carters career, once unpredictable, has lately followed the same downward trajectory of Burton, which might make sense, given that the two are now married.
The Kings Speech isnt revolutionary. It moves in very narrow arcs, delivering a cute and dependable (rather than devastating or surprising) entertainment that shouldnt be missed. Director Tom Hooper (the John Adams miniseries) elevates the historical drama genre, masterfully evoking the era of early radio (or, in the parlance of the times, the "wireless”) by focusing on the wariness and distrust with which the monarchy approached the microphone. To overcome this, Lionel urges the newly anointed king that when speaking publicly, "pauses add solemnity,” to which the king replies, "Im now the solemnest king who ever lived.”