'The King's Speech' is royally enjoyable
Colin Firth stars as the man who would become King George VI in "The King's Speech." (Associated Press)
A lifetime of guaranteed respect must be annoying for royalty. Yes, we all love the idea of being able to punish anyone who treats us rudely, but reverence loses its value when we receive it automatically.
Sometimes a royal might question if people are respecting them or the crown. Some might question if people are acting respectful only because they have an obligation to do so. And in cases when the king absolutely knows that he's doing a bad job, the unconditional respect of his subjects doesn't mean a thing.
England's Duke of York, later King George VI, (Colin Firth) has a hard time talking. In fact, he has a stammer. It isn't the easily mockable type that one would attribute to Porky Pig, but it's impossible not to notice the elongated pauses that interfere with the flow of his sentences.
Nobody in the kingdom acts disrespectfully (at least not to his face), but he knows he's failing his countrymen. The country is on the verge of World War II, and it needs a leader who can command the nation with his words. He is not the king, he is not supposed to be king, but he is still expected to act like a leader and inspire confidence. It is time to address the problem.
Enter speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). He is not a doctor, nor is he accredited in any way. His career is built entirely on his reputation, his reputation earned because he is the best. Things between the Duke (real name Albert) and Lionel get off to a bad start as Lionel insists upon some rules that Albert feels are beneath a member of the royal family.
For example, Lionel wants them to call each other by first name. The Duke is insulted enough to be referred to as Albert and even less comfortable being called "Bertie." Lionel also insists that Bertie visit him at his office (as opposed to making a house call) and that he stop smoking. The latter is actually a valuable part of speech therapy, but Bertie is disgusted to be denied the privilege. Bertie is about to storm out of the office when Lionel shows him that he can speak perfectly when distracted by music. Bertie sees that he's making progress and continues to see Lionel.
Much of the film is devoted to Lionel's unorthodox therapy methods. There are physical exercises, one of which involves Bertie's ever-game wife (Helena Bonham Carter) sitting on his chest. Vocal exercises see tons of tongue-twisters and silly noises They even get into a bit of psychotherapy, in which we learn that being a royal doesn't command much respect from the royal family itself. With the exception of the painful memories, these scenes are very funny and make the film highly enjoyable.
A film of this gravity can't stay funny and enjoyable forever, and soon more pressing issues force themselves into Bertie's life. His father the king dies, leaving the crown to Bertie's brother King Edward VIII (Guy Pearce). But Edward abdicates the throne, and King George VI rises to power as the country approaches one of its darkest hours. His stammer is at once the least of his problems and the last one he needs.
The added pressure puts a lot of strain on Bertie's relationship with Lionel. The two had become great friends professionally and personally. What before was friendly advice on Lionel's part now comes off as familiar and unprofessional. Not to mention that now Lionel really has no business enforcing any kind of rules with the king. Still, Lionel knows that deep down Bertie still needs him more than ever.
"The King's Speech" is funny in the right parts, touching in the right parts, and inspiring in the right parts. It received twelve Academy Awards nominations, including one for Best Picture. All 12 of those nominations are well-deserved.
Four stars out of five.