In Theaters: Review of The King’s Speech

by | Jan 22nd, 2011 | 7:56PM | Filed under: Movies, Theatrical Reviews

Theatrical Review: A tale of triumph over adversity on a personal and global scale, The King’s Speech is damn near the perfect awards-season film. But thanks to a deft touch with its Big Themes and exhilarating performances from Colin Firth and Geoffery Rush, it’s also plenty entertaining.

There are times watching director Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech when you feel like ticking off a “prestige” checklist: Period Britain? Check. A peek into the lives of royals? Check. Dysfunctional family dynamics? Check. Personal hardship? Check. An unlikely doctor-patient friendship? Check. The heavy drums of war on the horizon? Check. Tremendous performances by Very Good Ahhk-Tors? Check and check!

What keeps The King’s Speech from feeling like an airless awards-shelf filler is that Hooper and screenwriter David Seidler have fit all this together so seamlessly–every fine element works in perfect concert with the other, with the end result resonating dramatically across multiple levels.

The film centers on Colin Firth as Bertie/Albert, the future King George VI of Britain: son to the authoritarian George V (Michael Gambon), second prince to his feckless older brother Edward VIII (Guy Pearce), husband to Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter as the woman who would one day become the Queen Mother), and of course father to Elizabeth, the current Queen of England.

With that sort of impressive royal cast of characters assembled, Hooper and Seidler flawlessly weave together three themes. There’s a crisis of succession, as Edward ascends the throne in 1936 but is unwilling to give up his lover, the (sorta) divorced American Wallis Simpson (Eve Best). (Pearce’s Edward is not the noble romantic giving up his crown for love—instead he’s a lazy, appeasement-minded, Nazi-sympathizing playboy taken in by a professional gold digger.)

There’s Old Hitler (who, we’re reminded with grim irony, is an excellent public speaker) making very threatening gestures down on the Continent, while Timothy Spall’s Churchill (not yet PM) grumbles warnings from the corners.

And there’s Bertie’s debilitating stammer, a nearly paralyzing handicap in an age when the emergence of radio is forcing world leaders and royal figureheads to do more than, as the elder George notes, “look good on a horse and not fall off.” As it turns out, his brother’s abdication and Hitler’s plans for domination will eventually require Bertie to inspire and rally an empire… by speaking to it across the airwaves.

Enter Geoffrey Rush as Lionel Logue, the real-life Australian speech therapist who uses unorthodox methods to try and cure Bertie. With echoes of The Madness of King George and Restoration, Lionel and Bertie’s doctor-patient relationship and eventual friendship forms the core of The King’s Speech.

Hooper, who directed HBO’s John Adams and last year’s excellent The Damned United, has a knack for helping talented actors bring out the humanity amid the grandeur in larger-than-life historical figures.

Rush has no trouble making Lionel lovable, even as the character endures repeated dismissals by Brits who cannot help but look down on a lowly Australian “colonist.” And Bonham Carter’s Elizabeth is on hand to remind us that royal protocols and class distinctions must be adhered to, lest all decorum and dignity is lost.

But Firth’s work is even more impressive. He sloughs off much of his sexy humility to play Bertie as damaged, guarded and angry. It’s a tour-de-force and not just for the reedy stammering and vocal tangles, but the pain and frustration in Bertie’s eyes even as he sets his jaw and stiffens his upper lip.

Using a minor angle onto a major historical stage, The King’s Speech plays to Americans and British viewers’ craving for the sumptuous details of royal life while simultaneously having the aristocracy revealed as regular folks with regular faults and fears. But it also champions a sense of duty, even at a time when the British monarchy was transitioning from a ruling power to a symbolic inspiration–broadcast to the nation on the wings of new media.

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More of the cast of The King’s Speech from redbox:


10 Responses to “In Theaters: Review of The King’s Speech”

    • Currently 5/5 Stars
    Jennifer Sci Fi Friend
    Posted on January 23, 2011 at 9:27 pm

    Fabulous movie. One I would see again and again. Colin and Geoffery are mesmerizing. Would you not also add, overcoming personal hardship for the prestige list? I am surprised the critics love the movie so as they usually go for the heart wrenching no hope stories. While I totally believe the movie is beyond worthy such as Slumdog Millionaire was, I am surprised by the critics positive response.

  1. Locke Peterseim
    Locke Peterseim
    Posted on January 23, 2011 at 9:34 pm

    Jenn, I put “Personal hardship” on the prestige list. I mentioned overcoming it in the lead. Do you even READ my reviews? lol

    And are kidding about the critics’ positive response? Sure, maybe critics like dark tales of vague morality, but they also love well-made historical dramas as much as the next person.

  2. Jennifer Sci Fi Friend
    Posted on January 24, 2011 at 8:30 am

    Ugh, I have more fun needling you in person, sigh. I have to stop commenting when I am tired.

    Ok, smarty pants, YES I READ YOUR REVIEWS. You done yelling at me and being mean???

    What I really meant to say was the following – Why only one line dedicated to overcoming personal hardship in the opening sentence? Simply saying personal hardship on the check list does not mean “overcoming” personal hardship. In my opinion, I feel the movie resonates so well with audiences due to the chemistry between Colin and Geoffery and the story of the characters friendship. Everything else you mention is in support of that central story. I wanted to see you comment more on those two elements.

    And my last sentence I meant to say, I am so surprised by the critics positive response to such an uplifting story. Ah, thank you for saying so eloquently what I had been thinking but could not articulate “dark tales of vague morality”. And another ah, that makes sense, “The critics love a well made historical drama”.

  3. Fiirvoen
    Posted on January 24, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    Locke, I think she was referring more to the feel good vs. tragedy thing. There is a generality taken by most to be common knowledge that critics prefer tragic films more than feel good movies.

    • Currently 4/5 Stars
    matphoto
    Posted on January 25, 2011 at 6:19 am

    what really made this interesting for me was the wide angle, almost fish eye handheld shooting used throughout. I’ve never seen a movie use it for more than a gimmick shot here or there, and even then the camera is usually mounted. the wide lenses kept those pasty walls and royal halls bearable while masking the camera motion just enough to hold the duke’s struggle front and center, but not enough to keep crisp modern realism from seeping into an otherwise good but very actor driven narrative.

  4. Jennifer Sci Fi Friend
    Posted on January 26, 2011 at 8:40 am

    Fiirvoen – Thank you for being my translator :) Perfectly said!

    Matphoto – So well said.

    Locke?????

    • Currently 5/5 Stars
    Bill Petro
    Posted on January 26, 2011 at 4:25 pm

    It’s the best think I’ve seen in years.

    Read my review at: http://culturevulture.billpetro.com/2011/01/02/movie-review-the-kings-speech/

    • Currently 5/5 Stars
    Nadine
    Posted on January 26, 2011 at 5:21 pm

    There’s been a lot of snootiness in the reviews, though, and this one is not really an exception. Critics seem to have aversions to movies of this type and they want to be sure you know it, lest you think they don’t know any better. So there’s been a lot of, “well it tastes very good — but actually it IS good for you,” out there. Frankly, I just want to know if a movie is entertaining; if it High Art, okay. But I’m not one of the people who needs to be edified by my entertainment, necessarily. This is a very very very entertaining flick, gorgeously filmed, superbly acted and I care about the people. I don’t care if they lived in 1066.

  5. Locke Peterseim
    Locke Peterseim
    Posted on January 26, 2011 at 7:20 pm

    Nadine, where is “snootiness” in my review? In fact, I took just the opposite approach, suggesting that while it may LOOK like typical “good for you” awards-ready fare, it succeeds because it nicely melds the themes, performances, and character connections into something both edifying and entertaining.

    Nor am I sure what you meant by your 1066 comment, but obviously the fact that The King’s Speech takes place in the mid-1930s is CENTRAL to its entire theme, point, and purpose. I also like it very much BECAUSE I care about the people.

    I’m just not getting this whole “movies of this type” thing on this film. What “type” are all you guys saying it is? I honestly never thought of The King’s Speech as a “feel-good” movie. Uplifting? Hopeful? Sure, to an extent, but it fully earns all that. And it’s also very much an art-house film as well. What makes it so good is that it serves both those purposes.