When the Academy Award for Best Picture is handed out on the night of Feb. 27, don’t be surprised if the coveted golden statuette goes to “The King’s Speech,” a brilliantly acted and superbly directed historical drama starring Academy Award nominees Colin Firth and Helena Boham Carter and Academy Award winner Geoffrey Rush. This is one of those rare films belonging in the equally rare “Don’t-Miss-This-One” category.
Set in England, the film opens in 1925, when King George V (Michael Gambon) is on the throne, but his health is failing, and he realizes that of his four sons, either Albert (Firth), whose family nickname is Bertie, or David (Guy Pearce) is next in line for the kingship. Albert wants no part of it, however, because he has a great deal of trouble speaking publicly because of a severe stammering problem that has plagued him most of his life. This is painfully evident early in the film when Albert attempts to deliver the opening speech for the 1925 British Empire Exhibition and embarrasses both his listeners and himself.
After watching her husband suffer through the speech debacle, Bertie’s wife (Carter) sets him up with some speech therapists, but all of them fail miserably in their attempts to solve Albert’s problem. Finally, she turns to a man named Lionel Logue (Rush), an eccentric therapist whose methods are highly unconventional. Albert reluctantly agrees to meet with Logue, but their initial encounter doesn’t go well at all.
Following a period of amusing verbal sparring, Logue finally convinces Bertie to try an experiment. He hands him a copy of Hamlet’s “To-be-or-not-to-be” soliloquy, puts headphones on him, and asks him to read it while loud music plays into his ears. Albert goes along with this for a few moments, but then finally throws the book down in frustration and says the situation is hopeless. Before Bertie leaves, however, Logue gives him a recording he made of the reading.
When Bertie returns home, he puts the recording into a drawer and forgets about it until one evening when he gets it out on a whim and plays it. To his amazement he hears himself say the first part of Hamlet’s soliloquy without the hint of a stammer. Now he realizes that the idiosyncratic Logue has something to offer that all of the other therapists didn’t, and he begins a relationship with him that becomes legendary.
The death of Bertie’s father results in the coronation of David as King Edward VIII, who ultimately abdicates the throne so that he can marry a woman of whom the Royal Family does not approve. Thus, Bertie ascends to the throne in 1939 as King George VI, and, with England on the brink of war with Germany, Bertie must deliver a radio speech informing the British nation of the situation. And only Logue can help him succeed in this daunting task.
After sitting through myriad films rife with explosions, car chases, and gun battles, it is reassuring to see that Hollywood still is capable of producing a quality film like this one. Unfortunately, some people may avoid the film because of its R rating, but in this case the rating is a bit misleading. The film contains absolutely no graphic violence or sex, but the rating is the result of several brief but humorous scenes in which the king use a string of profanity including the notoriously infamous F-bomb. Ironically, the king doesn’t stammer when he is cursing, and these scenes are quite brief. In an online interview celebrity writer Cindy Pearlman asked Firth his opinion about the film’s R rating, and his answer is truly outstanding.
“I think the MPAA found themselves painted into a corner. I don’t want to rail here and I’m not blasting anybody. But I say a few bad words in this film, but I still feel we don’t deserve the same rating as films that are grossly violent. We can’t be in the same category as ‘Saw.’ I feel that this is a film that should be seen by everyone. Of course, it’s up to parents to have their own boundaries for their children. I’m not saying you should bring your 13-year-old to hear these words. If it was my 13-year-old, I would say that I don’t like these words, but the rest of the movie is too important to miss. By the way, I take my kids to soccer, and they hear words that are much worse. These are words that make our movie sound like ‘Mary Poppins.’ Again, I don’t like hearing them, but I still take my kids to the game.”
Firth’s point that “…the movie is too important to miss” is well taken. It is a film about the ability to overcome a seemingly insurmountable problem and the supreme power of friendship. At the heart of the film is the bond forged between Bertie and Logue, and both Rush and Firth convey this brilliantly. The chemistry between these two super actors is truly a thing of beauty in this film. Both men are perfectly cast in their respective roles, and their repartee throughout the film is at once entertaining, humorous, and heartwarming.
During their initial meeting, Bertie attempts to light a cigarette, and Logue tells him that there will be no smoking in his office. When Bertie questions this, Logue replies simply, “My castle, my rules.”
In addition to Rush and Firth, notable supporting performances are turned in by Carter, Pearce, Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill, and Derek Jacobi as Archbishop Lang.
Under the stellar direction of Tim Hooper and with an original screenplay by David Seidler, the film captures the time period perfectly with stunning sets and costumes, and actual footage of Hitler adds an aura of authenticity to the movie, which also features a superb original musical score by Alexandre Desplat. And the scene in which Bertie finally delivers his speech is one of the most moving and riveting things I’ve ever seen on the big screen. Firth is consistently convincing in portraying Bertie’s stammer, and he certainly deserves the Golden Globe he won as best actor in a drama.
“The King’s Speech” (It gets the highest possible 10 because it should be a 12.) is about as close to perfection as filmmaking can get. This one definitely is a film fit for a king!