Colin Firth in The King's Speech (2010)


(director: Tom Hooper; screenwriter: David Seidler; cinematographer: Danny Cohen; editor: Tariq Anwar; music: Alexandre Desplat; cast: Colin Firth (King George VI), Geoffrey Rush (Lionel Logue), Helena Bonham Carter (Queen Elizabeth), Guy Pearce (King Edward VIII), Jennifer Ehle (Myrtle Logue), Eve Best (Wallis Simpson), Freya Wilson (Princess Elizabeth), Ramona Marquez (Princess Margaret), Claire Bloom (Queen Mary), Derek Jacobi (Archbishop Cosmo Lang), Michael Gambon (King George V), Timothy Spall (Winston Churchill), Anthony Andrews (Stanley Baldwin); Runtime: 118; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Iain Canning/Emile Sherman/Gareth Unwin; Weinstein Company; 2010-UK/USA)

“A smart historical pic.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Smartly written by veteran screenwriter David Seidler, conventionally but ably directed by Tom Hooper (“Red Dust”/”The Damned United”) and brilliantly acted by Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush. It makes for a smart historical pic, one that’s amiable, comically wry, informative and wonderful as a period drama that’s polished in its details. It tells the story of the prideful, self-effacing, moody, arrogant, repressed and buttoned-down Duke of York (Colin Firth), who suffers from an inhibiting speech impediment since the age of 4 that makes his royal duties a nightmare. The Duke is solicitously supported by his loyal wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) and is treated secretly by a transplanted Australian failed Shakespearean actor, speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), who doesn’t have the proper credentials but has the experience to give hope that his unique treatment will work. The two testy characters go through an insufferable relationship, the gist of the film, until the Duke becomes King George VI and they overcome their class differences and personality quirks to have their friendship prosper for the rest of their lives.

It opens in Britain in 1925. Prince Albert, the Duke, the second son of King George V (Michael Gambon), is a nervous wreck as he makes a public address in a football stadium at the British Empire Exhibition using the new medium of radio. The Duke’s feeling great humiliation because of his stuttering and thinks he’s disappointing the public, who expect more from a member of the royal family. His wife feels his pain growing after a few failed attempts to alleviate the problem, as administered by highly recommended professionals. So Elizabeth gets hubby to try the unorthodox Logue to be his speech therapist, who initially gets under the officious Duke’s skin by getting personal with him, even daring to call him “Bertie,” and also going Freudian on him. Over the years, the men bicker on the treatment and have periods where they separate. But upon the death of the Duke’s imperious father King George V (Michael Gambon) in 1936 and the abdication of the throne by the eldest son King Edward VIII (Guy Pearce) to marry the twice-divorced, unlikable to the royals, American commoner Wallis Simpson (Eve Best), the Duke becomes king. The pic leaves off in 1939, as the insecure King George VI must deliver his first war address to the public and rally them against the threat of the speechifying Hitler.

It’s the prickly relationship between the plucky king and the maverick speech therapist that gives the film its credibility, as something authentic and worthwhile knowing about. When it goes outside this relationship and offers overwrought melodramatic conventional historical moments and overwhelms us with swelling Rocky like background rah-rah music, it seems to be defeating its purpose of keeping things real. This is an actor’s picture and they do their part to make this an enjoyable quality Oscar type of adult pic by bringing their great thespian skills to the starchy biopic. It’s at its best when the characters are engaged in the therapy sessions, as it daringly leaves them in uncomfortable situations that forces them to act intimate and profane with each other despite the protocol required for the royals to keep a proper distance from their commoner subjects.