King’s Speech, The
Full Price Feature
What a superb film. Colin Firth plays the Duke of York, son of George V (Michael Gambon) brother of King Edward I (Guy Pearce), and future King George VI. Bertie, as his family calls him, has a life-long, debilitating stammer. I did knot know about the upbringing of the father of Queen Elizabeth II, but as you watch him with his royal family, his disability is no surprise. Firth listened to recordings of the man he plays, retraining his confident and witty vocal instrument to stick in his throat and choke him. To listen to him struggle with such labored strain, it’s almost unbelievable when he finds his voice. Firth is fantastic. He balances the childhood wounds of the forgotten, abused son with the inborn sense of entitlement and detachment of a royal. Watching him juggle his self-esteem extremes and his plosives with such facility is a wonder.
He is aided in his treatment by Australian Geoffrey Rush — esteemed and successful in his field, yet subject to the merciless dialect snobbery of that country which was depicted with such humor in My Fair Lady. Rush’s character Lionel Logue recognizes the psychological, rather than mechanical, origins of such conditions, and breaks down Firth’s not-inconsiderable barriers to achieve his goals. A wonderful aspect of this story is not just the peek of a royal into the common world, nor the intellectual joys of seeing two actors ply their craft so masterfully — it’s how very funny The King’s Speech is. With all the high stakes and deep sympathies and swinging-pipe power plays, ultimately the treatment relationship becomes a jolly friendship and meeting of minds.
Guy Pearce plays David (King Edward I to you) the dissolute heir to Gambon’s throne. Pearce looks healthier than he has in years, and I delighted in his mincing Royal elocution, particularly around his flat native Australian tendencies. Gambon pulls out a formidable tyrant from his acting toolbox, making you forget all about his sweet hippie Dumbledore, and causing you to stammer a bit yourself. Jennifer Ehle (once Elizabeth Bennett to Firth’s Mr. Darcy) plays Rush’s wife in only a few small scenes, but she reminds those of us in non-monarchist America just how different the royals always were. David Bamber, who played Mr. Collins in that same production of Pride and Prejudice, has a small role here for us geek girls out there.
The acting is fantastic. Danny Cohen’s photography is gorgeous (a fact I felt compelled to keep reminding myself of in my notes), and the period equipment is spectacular. Radio was such a new technology in the 1925-1939 period during which this story takes place, we forget in our 24-hour news cycle how vital basic showmanship is to a public figure. It’s such a given that anyone hoping to be taken seriously in the public eye be able to speak clearly, it’s nice to dip back into time when it was a rarified talent. As television kicked Nixon in his debate with Kennedy, so does the radio weaken the public’s faith in a monarch whose choked “EK” noises ring out over the hushed and embarrassed crowd. The weight of history rests on the shoulders (and diaphragm) of the man who became George VI of England, and Firth shows us every ounce. Do see it.
MPAA Rating R-language
Release date 12/17/10
Time in minutes 111
Director Tom Hooper
Studio Weinstein Company