The Kings Speech

October, 2010, Drama

Directed by:Tom Hooper

Starring:Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Jennifer Ehle, Michael Gambon, Derek Jacobi, Guy Pearce, and Timothy Spall

 

The King’s Speech

 Last year, British television director Tom Hooper (Masterpiece Theater, East Enders, the H.B.O.  biography John Adams) directed a small gem about the world of professional British soccer called The Damned United. It told the unlikely but true story of an arrogant coach who was given the opportunity to manage that nation’s premier team (The British football equivalent of The New  York Yankees) only to lose the job because of his refusal to take sound strategic and player selection advice from his diffident but shrewd assistant. Chastened by the consequences of his overactive ego, the coach reunited with his long-suffering colleague and went on to achieve remarkable success with another, far less talented team.  Someone obviously recognized Hooper’s gift for directing stories featuring disparate personalities that find their strength in each other - - and the result is this delightful and enormously entertaining examination of the partnership between England’s King George VI (Colin Firth) and Lionel Logue, (Geoffery Rush) the speech therapist responsible for helping the shy, stuttering monarch find in himself the skills to communicate with his subjects during the turbulent days of WW II.

 The King’s Speech begins in the mid 1930’s, when George’s father was on the throne and older brother Edward first in line to assume the crown . Succession was thus a blessed improbability to the embarrassingly retiring Duke of York, whose inability to speak publicly was widely known and the source of acute embarrassment to his parents. Forced to wear painful braces to correct his posture as a child and forbidden to follow his natural instincts as a left-hander, the future king found himself comfortable only in the present of his wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) and daughters Elizabeth & Margaret. This trio formed a tiny, protective circle around the tormented prince, whose mandated public speaking appearances were a repeated source of personal, agonizing failure.    

After exhausting a number of medical experts, the Duke’s wife convinced her husband to work with Logue, an Australian speech specialist without professional training who combined highly unorthodox techniques with a briskly flippant attitude towards his noble patient. Infuriated by what he saw as Logue’s impertinence and unwilling to confront the psychological roots of his own problems, the stuttering Duke nevertheless sought Logue’s continued assistance following the death of his father and Edward’s sudden and unexpected abdication. Finding himself unexpectly thrown into the public spotlight in the most vulnerable way,  the newly crowned king relied on Logue's help in delivering a crucial address at the outbreak of the war against Nazi Germany.  Thanks to Logue's persistent training and quiet emotional support, King George VI then led his nation through the war and into the 1950’s,  becoming in the proceess one of his nation's most beloved royal  leaders.

As George VI, Firth follows his deft, Oscar-nominated portrayal of a suicidal gay man in A Single Man with this often boisterous portrait of a man so isolated from normal human interaction that he arrives in adulthood with a host of mainly self-imposed shortcomings. Wedding acute self-consciousness with imperious prerogatives, Firth puts his patented screen diffidence to perfect use, combining George's imperious mood swings with a perceptive interpretation of the mental/physical challenges of stuttering. Handsome but acutely shy, reserved and simultaneously autocratic, Firth's George VI becomes a beleagured but courageous man with whom no one in his right mind would want to trade places, as cursed with his temper as he is gifted with steely determination to  overcome  his handicap. When skewered by Logue for his personal foibles, the new  king erupts with ferocious, deliberately personal attacks designed to intimidate his tutor. But royal blood and its sense of entitlement merely encourage the perceptive and sensitive Logue to continue goading  George into becoming a man worthy of his responsibilities.

This film gives Rush his  best role since Shine and he makes the best of it; deliberately flamboyant, intellectually gifted and consciously idiosyncratic, Logue's character gets the very best of screenwriter David Seidler’s witty lines. The rapport established between the flippant Aussie and his emotionally suppressed patient reaches a hilarious climax when Logue instructs the King to utilize a string of lewd slang whenever he’s tempted to stutter - -an appropriate use of obscenity here in contrast to the boring repetitiveness of it found in Welcome to the Rileys, reviewed just two days ago.

Jenny Beavan's  costumes blend perfectly with sets designed by Eve Steward and decorated by Judy Farr. This team creates a dazzling recreation of post-Depression royal life and makes an insightful visual statement about Logan’s unique personality by utilizinging an arresting collection of wallpaper patterns in his home and office. Cinematographer Danny Cohen (Pirate Radio) delivers these lush images with commendable restrait and the large, talented supporting cast strikes just the right tone of respectful reverence. But the honors here go to the film’s principals; Firth and Rush generate magical screen chemistry, making The King’s Speech one of the warmest and most entertaining films you’re likely to see in a very long time.

The Verdict? Only a cinematic Scrooge would fail to be enchanted by this one.   

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