By Don Simpson | December 31, 2010
Director: Tom Hooper
Writer(s): David Seidler (screenplay),
Starring: Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, Geoffrey Rush, Paul Trussell, Michael Gambon
If frequent pauses add to the solemnity of a speech, then the Duke of York (Colin Firth) is a very solemn public speaker indeed. A stammerer for as long as he can recall, Bertie — as the Duke is known by his family — is haunted by the recent advent of “wireless” radio broadcasts since this means millions more people can now witness his stuttering via BBC radio. But at least as the second son of King George V (Michael Gambon), Bertie’s chances of becoming King are slim to none; as Duke he probably will not be required to address the public very often. However, with the King’s first son Edward (Guy Pearce) intending to wed a twice married (with both ex-husbands still living) American socialite, Wallis Simpson (Eve Best), Bertie should start preparing himself for what is quickly becoming the inevitable.
Bertie’s closing speech (which is more like an echoing series of clicks and grunts with a distinguishable word revealing itself now and then) at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1925 — where director Tom Hooper’s (The Damn United) film begins — is a clear sign that he needs a lot of help. Though Bertie had worked with several speech therapists over the years, none of them has made any progress with him. This is where Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) — whom Bertie’s wife (Helena Bonham Carter) discovers one very foggy day — rushes to the rescue.
The film approaches stuttering/stammering from the psychological perspective, that the speech disorder is caused by anxiety and stress. It turns out that Bertie, despite his royal lineage, suffered from a few traumatizing corrections during his childhood; he also never had any friends. Lionel’s purpose therefore is to give Bertie the confidence he requires to be able to speak with more fluidity while also enabling him to let go of his past.
The King’s Speech is a classic underdog success saga — based on the true story of Queen Elizabeth II’s father (the man we commonly know as King George VI) — and Hooper’s film follows the traditional (and therefore predictable) narrative arc of the genre. Nonetheless, Firth and Rush are sublime, and the writing and orchestration of their scenes is absolutely magnificent. If only The King’s Speech would have spent more time with them it certainly could have been an amazing film. Sure the historical context of the other scenes is intriguing (and some might argue, necessary), but the intensity of these scenes — which are basically treated as mere B-roll by Hooper — pales in comparison to the time we spend in Lionel’s proverbial castle with Bertie.
The Academy loves underdog success stories more than depressing tales of lonely gay men, so Firth might actually have a decent chance this year of snagging the Oscar for the Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role — he has only been nominated once before (last year for his astounding performance in A Single Man). As far as this critic is concerned, Ryan Gosling (Blue Valentine) is Firth’s only worthwhile competition in this lackluster year of leading male performances.