Title: The King's Speech
What King Are They Talking About Again? George VI, the reluctant successor to Edward VIII, who abdicated the throne of England on the eve of World War II.
Oh Right. Why Did Edward Abdicate Again? What am I, a history professor? Edward VIII proposed to an American divorcee, leading to a crisis in the British government. He chose to step down rather than put the country through further turmoil.
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant to the Film: Four-and-a-half St. Edward's Chairs out of five.
Better Tagline: "Oh look, it's B-B-B-Bertie c-c-c-coming to r-r-r-rule me!"
That's totally not insensitive if you remember A Fish Called Wanda.
Brief Synopsis: A stuttering king forges an unlikely friendship with his speech therapist, who uses unconventional methods to groom the monarch for his first big speech to a desperate people.
Not-So Brief Synopsis: Prince Albert (Colin Firth), the second son of England's King George V, seems a long shot to ascend to the throne. He has an older brother, Edward (Guy Pearce), set to take over for dad. And to make matters worse, Albert has a wicked stutter, which hardly inspires confidence in a population still relying on radio to receive communications from their monarchs.So when Edward abdicates to marry Wallis Warfield Simpson, a divorced American, Albert (now George VI) must sort of his speech problems in a hurry. Enter unconventional speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), who promises George's wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham-Carter) he can cure her husband's stammer..
So It's "Based On A True Story?" Yes, but don't let that scare you. Learning can be fun.
"Critical" Analysis: As a student of history, I always enjoy films that illuminate the lives of individuals and events of which I wasn't previously aware. I knew George VI was King during WWII (and was the father of Queen Elizabeth II), and knew of Edward's abdication, but knew nothing of his stammering or resultant crippling fear of public speaking, much less anything about Logue.
Director Tom Hopper (HBO's John Adams, The Damned United) doesn't just give us a picture of a nation in crisis, but shows us a transitional period in the Empire itself. The Irish parliament divested the English monarch of most power shortly after George's ascension to the throne, and the Republic of Ireland would form a decade later. And under his reign, India and Pakistan would gain their own independence.
The film also captures a change in attitude towards the monarch in England itself, captured perfectly by the relationship between George VI and Logue. The speech therapist, an Australian, is undaunted and obstinate in his dealings with the monarch, which the newly minted King is obviously unused to. George's confidence is shaky to begin with, thanks not only to his stammer but to being raised by a harsh father with little sympathy for a stuttering son.
What could have been another cliched portrait of an insecure character overcoming adversity with the help of loved ones and a firm-but-caring health care worker is elevated to real quality by two things: David Seidler's crackling script, which gives the George-Logue (and George-Elizabeth) exchanges real energy, and pretty much every lead performance. Rush and Bonham-Carter have never been better as Logue and George eminently supportive and loving wife, respectively.
But ultimately this is Firth's movie. We've seen his career take off in recent years, with solid turns in everything from musical froth (Mamma Mia!) to weighty drama (A Single Man), but this may be his best performance to date. "Bertie" (as he's semi-affectionately known) is -- by turns -- arrogant, childish, dutiful, contrite, and regal. Firth shows great range and depth, it's the kind of performance that wins Oscars, if you care about that sort of thing.
The King's Speech is easily one of my top films of the year. If you're a fan of intelligent writing, nuanced and accomplished acting, and a compelling story that just happens to be true, go check it out.
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If not, I'm sure Gulliver's Travels is playing somewhere nearby.
See It/Rent It/Skip It: See it. It's one of the best movies of the year.
The King's Speech is in limited release (at the Landmark River Oaks in Houston). Make the effort to see it before it's gone.