I love the kinds of films that take us behind the curtain to glimpse the other side of the story. In the case of The King’s Speech, relatively intimate events are taking place against the backdrop of major ones. Colin Firth gives an outstanding performance as Prince Albert, the man who would be King George VI (the father of Queen Elizabeth II), suddenly thrust upon the throne of England after his brother, King Edward VIII, abdicated to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson. This movie gives us a peek at the British royal family dynamics, but focuses mostly on the more fascinating relationship between Albert and his Australian speech therapist, played also very well by Geoffrey Rush. For a prince in the public eye to be crippled by a stammering speech impediment was a major problem, so after exhausting every legitimate method and therapy, Albert’s wife and future queen, Elizabeth (played by a relatively buttoned-down Helena Bonham Carter) is led to Lionel Logue, who not only helps Albert with some interesting therapeutic techniques, but the two begin to form a hesitant bond that leads to a strong friendship. All the while, the world and circumstances change around them and Albert has to find the confidence to step up to the mantle of king of England.
What captivated me about Firth’s performance was his natural way of delivering often stuttering dialogue very well. It’s one thing to be able to replicate someone’s impaired speech accurately, but he was able to portray all of Albert’s frustrations, sarcasm, anxieties, and humour seamlessly. Helena Bonham Carter didn’t have a very big role, but she came across very charming and nice — like the queen you’d love to meet (not what you’d expect from someone who only recently played psycho witch Bellatrix Lestrange in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows). My favourite part of her performance was when the camera would cut to show Elizabeth’s reaction as Albert was making a speech. You could see tiny signs of empathy and anxiety for her husband even behind composed and demure features. Lastly, Geoffrey Rush is always top-notch and he’s even (after his role as Walsingham in the Elizabeth movies with Cate Blanchett) becoming an expert at playing characters who advise monarchs. He’s got that perfect blend of intelligence, quirkiness, wisdom, and trustworthiness that is unmatched.
I hope Director Tom Hooper gets an Oscar nomination for his work on this film. From the opening speech at the beginning of the movie to the climactic finale, he set up the film as a series of significant moments for Prince Albert. Using the excellent performances that he got from his cast, he made me care about this man and everyone around him. When Albert was speaking to an audience and began stammering, Hooper knew how to end the scene at the exact moment when our empathy and compassionate anxiety for Albert had just reached its zenith. These small touches are what makes good direction. Hooper has already done some highly acclaimed television work, including the HBO mini-series John Adams, and another mini-series that I enjoyed a lot, Elizabeth I (starring the amazing Helen Mirren and Jeremy Irons), so I am glad that he is proving himself on the big screen as well.
The King’s Speech reminds me of The Queen (the 2006 film that won Helen Mirren an Oscar), where we also got to see a more human side to the British monarchy at a significant moment in history. I guess it says something about the real-life individuals (royals and those around them) that they inspire such rich characters, such brilliant performances, and such captivating stories. (4.5 out of 5)