THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"THE KING'S SPEECH"
Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter think public speaking is such a drag.
The key to success in anything is confidence. That's the lesson learned by King George VI (Colin Firth) in Tom Hooper's The King's Speech, which is based on a true story. Actually, when we first meet him, he's still known as Prince Albert - "Bertie" to his family. Deathly afraid of public speaking as a result of a stutter and a stammer, he seeks the help of a speech therapist named Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), at the prodding of his wife, Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter). The initial meeting doesn't go well; Logue's methods are unorthodox, and he insists that the two "be on the same level" during the meeting.
When his father, King George V (Michael Gambon), passes away and his brother, King Edward VIII (Guy Pearce), is forced to abdicate the throne following a scandal, Bertie knows that he's not only going to have to step up, but he's also going to have to speak during his coronation at Westminster Abbey. He makes amends with Logue, diving into the unusual techniques that are recommended to him. After successfully handling the event, something bigger arises: England goes to war with Hitler's Germany. Bertie is required to go on the radio to make a statement. He again turns to his now-trusted advisor to help him sound both inspirational and in command.
That's the plot, but the heart of The King's Speech is the relationship between Bertie and Logue. One is royalty - a man who has dedicated his life (willingly or unwillingly) to upholding the dignified image that his country requires of him. The other is a speech therapist who asks him to swear, sing, do tongue-twisters, and roll around on the floor. Bertie initially thinks Logue is crazy, until his techniques start working. Logue does more than work on speech, though. He notices that his pupil doesn't stammer when angry, which leads him to believe that there's something psychological going on underneath. By encouraging Bertie to explore his feelings about his family, particularly his brother, the door is opened to resolve some of the insecurities that feed the stammering. Bertie begins to gradually grow in self-confidence.
Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush are outstanding in these roles. We've seen this sort of relationship on screen before, yet they bring vibrancy to it. Both actors invest themselves in the reality of their scenes together. We feel how vital it is for Bertie to not embarrass himself when delivering his speech, just as we feel how determined Logue is to teach the king the sort of confidence his role as a leader will require. There's weight to these moments that causes the audience to get pulled in. You also wouldn't think a movie about, well, talking could have such a suspenseful climax, but this one does. Bertie very much wants to take a stand against Hitler and feels a moral obligation to do so. You sit there practically holding your breath, hoping that he can pull it off in an authoritative way.
The King's Speech is funnier than you might expect. While dealing with some occasionally heavy subject matter, it nevertheless finds time for humor, often in the way Bertie responds to Logue's methods. One of the biggest laughs comes when the therapist encourages the king to let loose a stream of profanities, which he does all too well. I think sometimes there's a tendency to expect historical films about royalty to be stuffy or dry. This film is anything but; it's actually quite fun to watch.
This isn't a major complaint, but I wish the story arc had been a little less traditional. Although based on real events, the screenplay by David Seidler takes those things and grafts them onto a familiar formula. An enterprising webmaster has already posted an intricate chart detailing the similarities between The King's Speech and - get this - The Karate Kid. I'm sure it's partly in jest, but it is hard to deny that nothing about this film is really groundbreaking. Don't let that tiny flaw deter you, though. The King's Speech is wonderful entertainment, anchored by two brilliant actors acting brilliantly together.
( 1/2 out of four)
The King's Speech is rated R for language. The running time is 1 hour and 50 minutes.