Each week, veteran film critic Bill Wine will look back at an important film that is worth watching, either for the first time or again.
by Bill Wine
I’m speechless. (Well, almost.)
That’s what great films can do: shut us up. And great is what “The King’s Speech” is.
We’ve had fine films about the British monarchy in recent years, including The Queen and The Young Victoria. But this fact-based comedic drama is better than fine. It’s magnificent.
The King’s Speech — winner of Academy Awards for Best Picture, Director, Actor, and Original Screenplay for 2010 — is admittedly stagebound and seemingly modest in budget and scope. But it’s absolutely fascinating in its nuance and detail and is intensely and irresistibly focused on the unlikely friendship between its two fascinating central characters. Yep, it’s a buddy flick, a bromance. And it’s a triumph.
Oscar winner Colin Firth is stupendous as the tortured Prince Albert, the Duke of York, called “Bertie” by his inner circle, the Brit (and father of Queen Elizabeth II) who is plagued with a debilitating stutter until his wife — who would eventually become the Queen Mother, played subtly and slyly by Helena Bonham Carter — convinces him to turn himself over to the impudent and unorthodox Australian speech therapist and failed actor, Lionel Logue, played by Geoffrey Rush, who matches Firth every electrifying step of the way.
Albert, destined but reluctant to become King George VI — if for no other reason, because of the public speaking responsibilities that he and his speech impediment will have to commit to — does so when his popular older brother, Edward VIII, abdicates to marry twice-divorced American Wallis Simpson and instead become merely the Duke of Windsor.
Nevertheless, he protests strongly when Logue attempts to uncover the psychoanalytical reasons behind his stammer. But the resourceful Logue cleverly wins the battle of wills and helps him to overcome his limitations and exhibit a form of bravery that is extraordinarily moving.
The script taps into our universal fear of public speaking, and provides a history lesson about two men, a royal and a commoner, who have pretty much been ignored by history.
Director Tom Hooper focuses on his two leads, to be sure, but also allows a splendid ensemble to ably support them, including Michael Gambon as George V, Derek Jacobi as the Archbishop, Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill, Guy Pearce as King Edward VIII, Claire Bloom as Queen Mary, Eve Best as Wallis Simpson, and Jennifer Ehle as Logue’s wife.
Furthermore, Hooper has the admirable artistic audacity to not only spend the lion’s share of a film about British royalty in a drab London flat, but to use as his film’s climax a scene in which King George’s live 1939 radio speech to rally the nation and inform the international community after England declares war on Germany, with millions of folks around the world hanging on his every urgent, difficult word.
The King’s Speech is a masterfully witty and graceful, completely engaging period dramedy anchored by monumental performances by Firth and Rush. It’s the man who would be king in the film that would be kingly. And is.
Bill Wine is an Emmy-winning film critic who served in that capacity for WTXF and KYW Newsradio. He lives in Chestnut Hill.