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Review: The King's Speech (***1/2)


I enjoy history, but when it comes to the history of British royalty, I'm a bit of a commoner. I can't say this is ever been a problem, I don't tend to hobnob with royalty, well, ever. When it comes to films like The King's Speech it can come in quite handy--it means I can sit back an enjoy the story for what it is, rather than compare and contrast it.

The story starts with a rather disastrous speech given by Prince Albert (Colin Firth) at Wembley Stadium in 1925. It isn't the speech, it's the manner in which it's delivered-- and as I'm sure you all know from trailers and synopses-- Prince Albert, or 'Bertie' as he is called by his family, has quite the stammer. It is because of this that Bertie's wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) goes out searching for better treatment options and comes across Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), an Australian-born speech therapist.

The relationship between his majesty and Logue is kind of a rocky one to start. Rather than following the formalities he's supposed to, Lionel calls Prince Albert 'Bertie' just like the rest of his family, and Lionel's insistence to have the sessions in his own office (basically an empty old flat in London) means that Bertie is out of his element. In addition to all of that, Logue's methods are foreign to the Prince-- Logue asks prying questions about Bertie's personal life attempting to get to the heart of the psychosis, and continually contradicts the prince when Bertie gets forlorn.

Ultimately, this method starts to help Bertie overcome his stammer, but it also leads to a ten year hiatus between Bertie and Lionel, one only broken because Bertie's brother King Edward VIII (Guy Pearce) abdicates the throne to marry a rich American socialite, and Bertie becomes King George VI. With the country emerging from a depression and on the verge of war with Germany, the British Empire needs a King that can carry them through on the waves of his voice.

Colin Firth absolutely deserves all of the recognition that he's received from his portrayal of King George VI. From the very first we see of him on the screen, we can see the discomfort he has not only with his ability to speak in public, but also being a public figure and having so many expectations placed on him. There's a nervousness that is constantly visible on Firth's face and in his mannerisms, ever self-conscious about an impediment that renders him falsely pitiable. The pride that he shows and the temper is a volatile part of the performance as well, not to mention the sincerity and sweetness that he shows with Elizabeth, his daughters, and even with Edward. The transformation that he makes is slow and steady, meeting all challenges and showing tremendous fortitude until we're seeing him swearing and singing in order to loosen himself up and prepare for the first war time speech in 1939 after Britain declares war against Nazi Germany. There is no line in between Colin Firth and King VI's character, his performance was superb.

But I sincerely doubt that this performance would be half so good if Geoffrey Rush had not done such a commendable job as Lionel Logue. Straight shooting and loveable, he lends the support to Bertie that Bertie needs to work through his stutter. He does not accept any of the down talking that Bertie says to himself, balancing the line between his obscure, irreverent methods and the formality that kings generally receive. Delivering the snappy dialogue without a care, and showing a genuine concern for Bertie at the same time, Geoffrey Rush should be a real contender for the best supporting actor nomination come Oscar time.

Speaking of Oscar-worthy performances, how nice it is to see Helena Bonham Carter in something other than a Tim Burton film, or playing some wacko of sorts. She is so likeable in this movie--so supportive of Bertie and so unbending in her regality. She does a fantastic job as Queen Elizabeth.

Most films dealing with royalty are shot in a very conservative manner, but the direction by Tom Hooper has some very modern camera shots. Rather than keep all of his characters the central focus of the camera, he would, at times, shoot them more peripherally, from high above, or from below other objects. Also, the infusion of actual newsreel footage from Nazi Germany only heightened the importance of King George VI's therapy, so I thought that was a nice touch. The coloring of the film was also quite deliberate. Rich coloring within the castles, but everywhere a common person might be found was mostly gray or graying coloring, save for Lionel's zesty blue pin-striped suit.

This film was a fine piece of work, excellently acted and beautifully photographed. Hopefully the awards season will continue to be good to it.

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